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Manfred “not confident” there will be 2020 MLB season

Major League BaseballAfter claiming last week he was 100 percent certain there would be a 2020 MLB season, Commissioner Rob Manfred has walked back the statement and admits he’s “not confident” we’ll see baseball this year.

In comments taped for tonight’s ESPN SportsCenter two-hour special on the return of sports, Manfred told ESPN’s Mike Greenberg that he would prefer MLB came to an agreement with the MLB Players Association on the parameters of a 2020 MLB season. After the most recent proposal from MLB (accompanied by a snarky letter, natch) calling for a 72-game season with reduced salaries, expanded playoffs, a July 14 season launch and a Sept. 27 end, the players union told MLB to just order a return to work, along the lines of what the pair agreed to in March when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a season shutdown. That return to work is based on the assumption is that Manfred and MLB owners believe that a 50-game season would conform to a March agreement between players and owners that called for no salary cuts this season, and that Manfred has the power to implement that season without a final agreement with players after MLB has made good-faith efforts to launch the 2020 campaign. MLB seeks to end the season with a traditional timeline in order to avoid a potential second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic expected by experts in November and December, while the players don’t see a potential second wave as a valid threat to a November postseason.

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans,” he said. But it’s worth noting that Manfred is still positioning the impasse as being mostly the fault of players refusing to negotiate a 2020 schedule in good faith. That’s setting a legal defense down the road if the players argue they were unfairly treated after Manfred imposes the shorter season: if the players are deemed to not be negotiating in good faith per the March agreement, MLB would be let off the hook for any damages. Indeed, MLB is asking the players to waive their rights to a potential grievance hearing, according to the Los Angeles Times. The players could report for the 2020 season but still pursue such a grievance over potentially lost wages.

“I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players full prorated salary, that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26th,” Manfred told ESPN. “Unfortunately, over the weekend, while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union’s top lawyer was out telling reporters, players and eventually getting back to owners that as soon as we issued a schedule — as they requested — they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars.

“Obviously, that sort of bad-faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances.”

As you might expect, the players association isn’t thrilled about this turn of events. Here’s the latest from MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark:

Suffice it to say this discussion is rapidly leaving the ballpark and Park Avenue and heading directly into the law offices. The references to “good faith” and “bad faith” are words with specific legal meanings in this context.

The ESPN special airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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