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How MLB owners are destroying the 2020 season over a small amount of money

Players and owners sound like kids on a playground yelling “Am not!” “Are so!” They need to wake up before they kill the sport entirely.

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Well, here we are.

It’s June 6. I should be writing articles, and you should be reading them, about Cubs players returning to Chicago to begin “Spring Training 2.0” at Wrigley Field next week.

Instead, we’ve got this:

MLB owners are dug in, entrenched in their belief that the more money they can keep away from baseball players, the better. Never mind the damage they are doing to the sport’s image, never mind the danger that we don’t have a 2020 season at all or maybe even a 2021 season, never mind all the real estate investments that have driven franchise values through the roof are pretty useless these days. (Check Sara Sanchez’ Day 85 without baseball diary for a look at some of the empty places near Wrigley Field.)

At The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal writes that a July 4 season opening is now nearly impossible, and has some unkind words for the parties involved:

The bickering is unpopular enough in ordinary circumstances. Under the current circumstances – more than 100,000 dead from the coronavirus, more than 42 million filing for unemployment in the past three months, the nationwide anguish stemming from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and police treatment of African-Americans – it is nothing short of appalling. And yet, neither MLB nor the Players Association seems to care that both parties resemble children sitting in separate corners with their toys, refusing to play with others.

Or maybe you’d rather have this metaphor?

As one player agent put it Thursday, “If this was a marriage, it would be a divorce.” The parties indeed act like a couple about to split, talking at each other instead of to each other, recycling the same arguments, stubbornly insisting the other is wrong. They are trapped in their relationship, trapped by their respective histories. And the perception of the game suffers.

Or this one?

And so the bad marriage continues. The players and owners are like a couple at a dinner party trying to out-argue each other while the other attendees wait to sit down and eat.

Seriously. Owners and players need to grow up, stop acting like children or bickering spouses and get a deal done. It’s not that hard, really; here are some details of the money involved and a thought from me on how they could make it work.

There’s a real good article by Neil Paine at FiveThirtyEight from earlier this week about MLB finances and it’s way too long to give a good summary here, but the gist is: MLB is going to lose money, yes, but owners could still afford to have an 82-game season and pay players something more than the insulting offer they made just after Memorial Day. Paine’s article is worth your time.

Jeff Passan summed up the issue well in this article posted Friday:

There are simple solutions for baseball’s return. They’re right there, waiting for owners and players to embrace before the parties unleash more damage on the sport.

Already they have taken what could have been a triumphant return and dragged it through a swamp of pride and avarice and obduracy. In the middle of a pandemic. As cities around the country burn. With more than 40 million unemployed. It is myopic, and it is time for it to stop.

Because the answer is clear. All of this — this gridlock and inability to get anywhere close to a return-to-play deal — is a fight over a few hundred million dollars.

Passan’s number basically agrees with what Paine puts forth in his article, and he goes into detail about numbers, which again you can read and ingest without me repeating everything here. The dispute boils down to this:

“Both sides have created through ignorance and deceit their own universes,” said one source involved in the discussions. “The owners are convinced they’re victims. They players are convinced they’re aggrieved. It’s two echo chambers.

“You can’t talk money,” he said, “without trust.”

I mean... seriously. I have made no secret whose side I’m on here. The players are the game. Much as the Ricketts family ownership has done what they promised when they took over the team (and yes, I am well aware of the controversies surrounding that family and it’s not my purpose here to rehash those), no one goes to Wrigley Field to see Tom Ricketts. They go to see Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Kyle Hendricks and other popular stars. Does ownership not understand this? Without these players the game is nothing. And based on the mistrust noted above, it might become nothing for a considerable length of time unless there’s someone, anyone who can knock some sense into both parties before they do irreparable damage to the game we love.

It seems to me that the following would be a workable solution that would please just about everyone, players, owners and fans:

  • Play an 82-game season beginning sometime in early July, although as noted above the time for doing so might have passed.
  • Second, pay the players their full pro-rated salaries based on their 2020 contracts for 82 games, or a bit more than 50 percent of what’s been contracted for.
  • And here’s the kicker that might work for everyone: Defer half of those pro-rated salaries. That would mean that owners would have to pay only 25 percent of contracted salaries for 2020, in 2020. Pay the players one-third of the deferred amount in 2023, one-third in 2024 and one-third in 2025. Presumably, the game could be back to more normal levels of revenue by those years.

Deferral of salaries had been mentioned as a possible proposal by the MLBPA just after Memorial Day, but apparently either that didn’t happen or it was rejected and there was no updated proposal made by the players.

But doing a deferral in the way I’ve noted above would help owners with current cash flow — since some owners have complained about that, including Tom Ricketts earlier this week — while still eventually getting the players all their 2020 money, even if they have to wait some time to get it.

Or figure out something else, guys. Seriously. All of us want to see baseball. None of us want to have MLB be the only major sport sitting out 2020. That would be a black eye on baseball not just for this year, but could damage MLB for years to come.

Get it done. Please. Play ball.


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