Yes, the digital clocks you now use almost everywhere don’t make that sound. But I’m sure you can hear it ticking loudly on the chances to have a 2020 baseball season.
Monday, MLB owners made another proposal for a season which contained specific financial numbers for player salaries, as well as some other conditions for play. ESPN’s Jeff Passan helpfully put all these on Twitter, so let’s take a look at them one by one.
ESPN has obtained a copy of MLB’s proposal today to the players. Here are the pertinent details:— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 8, 2020
- 76-game season
- $1,431,716,000 in potential compensation (75% of the full prorated salary of $1,909,436 over 76 games)
- Up to 8 playoff teams per league (at MLB’s discretion)
A 76-game season isn’t great, but it’s only six games fewer than the 82-game proposal that we had all hoped would start around the beginning of July and five games fewer than half a “normal” 162-game season. It’s enough games to be credible.
Owners are offering 75 percent of the full pro-rated salaries. Here’s how that $1,431,716,000 breaks down:
Salary breakdown to get to the $1.431 billion number:— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 8, 2020
- 50% of prorated salaries over 76 games: $954,718,000
- Payment to players if postseason happens: $393,000,000
- Bonus pool for postseason teams to split up: $50,000,000
- Forgiveness on $170M advance: $33,998,000
The key words there are “if postseason happens.” $393,000,000 is 27.5 percent of the total, a significant amount. Everyone acknowledges that the postseason is key to owners making money this year, because the real big TV money is always made during postseason play. That’s a given. You’d think everyone would do everything in their power to make a postseason happen in 2020, given the high stakes. A second wave of the novel coronavirus would be about the only reason I could see for not having one.
But seriously: The difference noted above between the full pro-rated salaries ($1,909,436,000 — seems Passan left out three zeroes in the tweet) and the offer ($1,431,716,000) is about $477.7 million.
Now, $477 million isn’t nothing — but you’d think this could create some movement on both sides. Could they meet in the middle? That would mean moving about 12.5 percent in each direction, about $238.5 million.
Again, that’s not nothing, but even in this season of lost ticket revenues, you’d think owners could find $238.5 million worth of movement. That’s about $7.95 million per team, or to put it another way, slightly more than the Cubs had contracted to pay Kyle Schwarber this year ($7.01 million) before life was disrupted by COVID-19.
Or defer the difference for two or three years, until life gets back to some semblance of normal and teams are (presumably) making money close to the way they did before 2020.
Do owners really want to shut things down over this small an amount of money? Or are they just trying to do this?
Good point just made by @Marc_Normandin: given that the 48-game proposal was not an actual proposal -- it was just a leak to Passan -- the league has not "moved" anyplace, really. It's creating, via spin, the impression that it's moving in order to make the players seem stubborn.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) June 8, 2020
Welp. This sort of thing isn’t helpful, I think you’d agree.
Let’s look at some of the non-financial things Passan tweeted Monday.
- Players deemed "high risk individuals" can opt out of the 2020 season and retain their salaries and service time. Players not deemed high risk would receive neither salary nor service.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 8, 2020
Who are high-risk individuals? From MLB COVID-19 manual: "Some individuals may be more likely to suffer severe illness as a result of COVID-19 than others. ... Individuals who, by virtue of their age or medical history, are at a materially higher risk ... of complications."— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 8, 2020
That’s all fair, but... what about players who have family members who are high-risk individuals? Sean Doolittle’s wife Eireann Dolan has a respiratory issue that would put her at high risk if she caught COVID-19. Would Doolittle be able to opt out? Doolittle posted a thoughtful thread on Twitter last month addressing some of the health issues (click through to see the whole thread):
Bear with me, but it feels like we've zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season. Here are some things I'll be looking for in the proposal...— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) May 11, 2020
Even here, there might be a way to compromise: If the player isn’t personally high-risk, he could opt out and not get paid, but still get service time. That’s especially true because the Memorandum of Understanding signed between players and owners in March did grant service time with no conditions attached, even if no games were played in 2020:
If games are played, a player would receive service equal to days in the major leagues multiplied by 186 (days in the original season’s schedule), divided by the number of days in the revised schedule after excluding interruptions in play. A full service year remains 172 days.
If no games are played, each player on the major league roster or injured list would receive major league service equaling what that player accrued in 2019. Players on the restricted list would not receive any service time.
So. We might be at an impasse... or not. MLB says they want a response this week:
MLB’s latest proposal gave the union a deadline of Wednesday to reach agreement on a 76-game season. The inference: each few days is going to keep lowering the number of games believed possible by MLB until it gets to that 48-54 range for full prorated salaries.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) June 8, 2020
That... doesn’t seem like the best way to approach things, although as Joel Sherman suggests, that’s just an inference. Maybe there is a way to meet in the middle. Let me make it clear that I am absolutely, positively on the players’ side here. I am also on the side of “let’s play ball.” In any negotiation, both parties have to give a little.
The last thing I want to discuss here is the idea of having fans at games again. While it might appear that life in America is edging back towards something like the way it was before mid-March, most of the cities that host MLB teams aren’t anywhere near a reopening phase where you’d be able to allow even a small fraction of fans into ballparks. People say, “Well, restaurants are open at 25 or 50 percent capacity, why not ballparks?” The answer to that is blindingly simple: For a restaurant, you might be talking about 50 people, maybe 75. For a ballpark at 25 percent capacity, you’re talking 10,000 people! There are choke points at entries and exits, lines without social distancing everywhere, public restrooms that many people might fear using. I don’t see any way a crowd that size is allowed in Chicago (for example) until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, which means next year.
Don’t believe me? How about this survey by the New York Times of over 500 epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists? They were asked about their comfort level of attending various types of events this summer, within three to 12 months, or more than 12 months from now. Look at where “a sporting event, concert or play” lands:
That comes way after things on two other charts in the article, which have events ranging from “Vacation overnight within driving distance,” “Attend a small dinner party,” and “Travel by airplane.” Just three percent of the experts surveyed said they’d go to a large-scale event like a sports event this summer. And you can bet that many of these experts are the ones advising localities throughout North America on whether it’s safe to attend such an event this summer. While the city of Chicago might have gone into “Phase 3” of recovery from the shutdown this past week, there are still many restrictions on life, including social distancing rules and capacities at places of business. “Phase 4” in Illinois won’t start any earlier than the end of June — and possibly later — and even then, it doesn’t call for allowing gatherings larger than 50, and that’s a statewide goal. The city of Chicago’s “Phase 4” could be later.
So let’s all stay safe. There’s still a very good chance there will be a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — as there was in the 1918-19 flu pandemic — and that could shut things down again later this summer. The Washington Post reported Monday that previous shutdowns might have saved us from as many as 60 million COVID-19 infections. We don’t want to see a spike like that in the fall, and turning this back to baseball, that’s why owners want any 2020 season to end by October 1 and a postseason complete by November 1.
Jayson Stark was right when he wrote this article almost two weeks ago. He’s still right:
It's time for the Day 6 edition of this daily retweet.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) June 8, 2020
I don't see any reason to stop making this plea to my friends at MLB and the union:
Whatever you do, don't drive off that cliff!https://t.co/qkmqVjU9wW https://t.co/9lCO55P0vI
C’mon, guys — owners and players. Get it done. Play ball.