Over the weekend, an offer from MLB to the MLB Players Association was revealed, and at first glance it looked pretty good — full pay for a slightly shortened season, delayed about a month, with expanded playoffs.
As details of this offer became public knowledge, it became clear that this offer wasn’t really a good one, and Monday evening the MLBPA issued this statement:
The Major League Baseball Players Association today released the following statement on Players’ commitment to begin the 2021 season on time: pic.twitter.com/WCYtaeVqmH— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) February 2, 2021
In response to the MLBPA’s statement, late Monday MLB issued a statement which I reproduce here in full:
“On the advice of medical experts, we proposed a one-month delay to the start of Spring Training and the regular season to better protect the health and safety of players and support staff. A delay of the season would allow for the level of COVID-19 infection rates to decrease and additional time for the distribution of vaccinations, as well as minimizing potential disruptions to the 2021 season that currently face all sports.
“The offer included starting the regular season on April 29th and playing a 154-game schedule that would pay players in full as if playing 162 games. We also proposed two changes from the 2020 season that were overwhelmingly popular with our fans – for this season only, featuring a modified expanded Postseason (seven teams per League) and the universal designated hitter rule.
“This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport by merely moving the calendar of the season back one month for health and safety reasons without impacting any rights either the players or the Clubs currently have under the Basic Agreement or Uniform Player’s Contract for pay and service time.
“In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols. Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball. We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB staff to protect one another. We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021.”
We don’t know what the “revised offer” was; as far as I can tell none of those details were made public.
MLB, obviously, is trying to make itself look good here; in their statement they left out the part where Commissioner Rob Manfred would have been given quite a bit of unilateral power to suspend or cancel the season due to COVID-19 concerns — and if that had happened, there were no salary guarantees to players at all.
Personally, I continue to believe that a delay of about a month to the start of the season would be useful. For one thing, per this Washington Post article by Dave Sheinin:
Arizona has the nation’s highest rate of new coronavirus infections, but officials there have said they expect case numbers to drop significantly over the next month or so — projections that suggest a delay makes sense.
There is one phrase in MLB’s statement that addresses this, and it brings up a big caveat (emphasis added):
we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols
You might recall how long it took MLB and the MLBPA to reach such an agreement last spring; that might have wound up reducing the length of the 2020 season, given what Rob Manfred said last July:
As it is said, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.— Sports Law Lust ️ (@SportsLawLust) July 1, 2020
Manfred must have forgotten he was staring down the barrel of a bad faith grievance that he intentionally delayed negotiations. Might have just handed the union their case.pic.twitter.com/JNeO4pMC0N
It is true that MLB and the MLBPA did eventually agree on health and safety protocols last year. For the most part, those worked pretty well, though they had to be made tougher after several teams had to have multiple games rescheduled due to COVID-19 outbreaks and the well-publicized breaking of those protocols by Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac of the Cleveland Indians.
Given the distrust between players and owners that’s reflected in the owners’ offer and the players’ rejection of said offer, I wonder how long and fraught the discussions of health and safety protocols between the parties will take. We’re now just 25 days from the Cubs’ scheduled first spring training game against the Dodgers at Sloan Park, and probably 10 or so days earlier than that players will begin to report to spring camps. That’s not much time to get everything nailed down.
It’s been said by some that the NBA and NHL are currently playing through the pandemic and if so, why can’t MLB? While that is true, both leagues had delays before they began and both have had multiple games postponed due to COVID-19 cases (the New Jersey Devils, for one, are currently shut down for a week). In my view, the proposed month-long delay for baseball would have gone a long way toward avoiding such problems for MLB — but not the way the owners and the Commissioner’s office proposed it.
Beyond all that, the labor agreement between owners and players expires a bit less than 10 months from now, at 11:59 p.m. ET on December 1, 2021.
If you think negotiations for a new labor deal between the parties will go smoothly, I suggest you think again.