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Fate of 2020 MLB season again up in the air

Major League BaseballWith the players union submitting a counterproposal for launching play this year—a counterproposal sure to be rejected by MLB—the fate of the 2020 MLB season hangs in the balance, as a hard deadline is approaching.

The counterproposal, as reported by several news outlets and confirmed by MLB sources, calls for the players to be paid their full salaries on a prorated basis based on a 114-game schedule over 123 days that would begin June 30 and end Oct. 31. In addition, MLB would advance players $100 million when another round of spring training occurs before the start of the season.

The MLBPA proposal would extend the 2020 MLB season to Thanksgiving, something MLB wants to avoid in the chance of a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases come fall. Playing 114 days over 123 days would be a challenge, to be sure; the union proposal allows for more doubleheaders than normal.

Also on the table from MLBPA: Potential events that could generate revenue, such as an offseason All-Star Game or Home Run Derby, though it’s not clear how marketable these events would be come December 2020 or January 2021 once other sports are active again. In a curious twist, the players also offered to wear microphones on the field and participate in television programming outside of a ballpark.

The only area where both MLB and MLBPA agree is an expanded post season with 14 teams. MLB is proposing that the measure applies to 2020; the players would extend that to 2021.

Players could opt out of playing under pandemic conditions, but they would still be paid their full salaries and receive full service time if they fall within a vulnerable population or live with someone deemed at risk from COVID-19 infection. If not, players would still receive their full service time, but no pay.

This proposal stands in stark contrast to the MLB plan presented to and rejected by players last week. This plan had the highest-paid players in the sport losing about 80 percent of their salaries while beginning the season in ballparks sans fans, while players making the least amount could keep up to 90 percent of their pay. In addition, the plan calls for a 21-day training camp and a season end of Sept. 27—the same original ending date before the pandemic closed down the season. The union’s negotiating stance is that players already agreed to pay cuts in March based on a pro-rated basis and that no further cuts are required. Teams say that agreement was based on anticipated revenue generated by fans returning to the ballparks, and without that assurance given there’s a really good chance we may see the entire 2020 MLB season and playoff held without fans / gate revenues, additional pay cuts are warranted.

In other words, there’s very little in the two proposals have in common, save launching play this summer.

With a proposal sure to be rejected by the owners, it’s hard to argue that players really want to see the season launch at all. (They’re not alone: there are many MLB owners and front-office personnel who really don’t want to see a season launch, either.) The clock is ticking: a decision this week would barely give the sport a chance to gather players and launch an abbreviated spring training, no matter if we’re looking at a June 30 or July 3 start date. But let’s also be real: much of what is part of financial plans from both sides have little to do with this year and everything to do with posturing in anticipation of negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement due to happen next year. More control over player salaries is certainly something MLB owners want to see in the form of a hard cap, as opposed to the luxury tax that now serves as a very soft cap. The MLBPA certainly wants to avoid that, despite caps working in the NFL, NBA and NHL. And it’s no secret agents want to see MLB revenue totals include non-baseball development projects tied to ballpark developments.

So both sides are on the clock, and both sides will need to decide how badly they want to launch the 2020 MLB season. This week will likely determine the fate of baseball this year—and potentially for many years down the road.

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