The fate of the 2020 MLB season could be decided in the next week, as MLB and MLBPA reps are negotiating player-safety guidelines and could be reviewing financial data presented by baseball owners as early as today.
The two issues are the prime considerations for a season launch on the July 4 weekend, as MLB preps for a season beginning with play at empty ballparks, though the hope is to add fans later in the year. The MLB proposal re: player-safety guidelines—a hefty 67 pages—covered a wide range of topics that included testing, social-distancing guidelines and game protocols banning the likes of spitting, fist bumps and high fives. When on the road, players would be asked to stay in their rooms, and in all cases dress before they hit the ballpark while also giving up tools like hydrotherapy. A response from the MLBPA was issued last night, focused on additional testing frequency, provisions for family members and details on how a positive-testing player would be handled.
This is all well and good, and it was smart for MLB to begin talks about the 2020 MLB season with a discussion of player safety before moving on to the more contentious issue: pay. MLB owners are expected to submit financial data to players to assuage fears that additional pay cuts would unfairly impact players. Already the MLBPA has agreed to pay cuts in a deal first negotiated with the coronavirus pandemic closed down play in March, but for an actual return to play come July the MLB owners floated a 50-50 revenue split. This split was immediately requested by the MLBPA as a step toward a hard salary cap—something players have opposed for decades.
There is, of course, a relatively easy way to address this: MLB can back off the 50-50 split and vow not to turn any deal this year—and maybe next year—into a hard salary cap come the next round of collective bargaining agreement negotiations due in 2021. Some players have acknowledged some adjustment on pay is necessary; the fact that many MLB teams are now furloughing or cutting the pay of front-office personnel is also driving the point home for all that finances are tight across the board.
This is not the Memorial Day weekend we all expected: We expected the real start of summer baseball. But this is the Memorial Day weekend we have, and what happens in the next week or so will determine whether we have Major League Baseball this year.
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