The Major League Baseball Players Association is considering a proposal from the MLB to postpone the start of the 2021 season. If the union doesn’t make a counter offer early next week, spring training is slated to begin as planned in mid-February, with the situation, ESPN said.
After months of scattered dialogue, the parties are in a similar position to last year when the coronavirus pandemic closed the season: they disagreed on the right way forward. The league’s proposal to move the start of spring training to late March and the start of the season to late April has a 154-game schedule that, according to sources, pays players their full 162-game salaries.
The proposal affects the MLBPA on several fronts, players and union sources told ESPN. After starting spring training around February 17, the pitchers are reluctant to end the scheduled spring training start on March 22, for a season that sources say will begin on April 28, on March 22. In addition, the players believe the language in the proposal would give Commissioner Rob Manfred power beyond what he currently has to cancel games and, accordingly, potentially restrict player pay.
The league does not agree with this interpretation. While Manfred had the right to cancel games or suspend the sport under the March 26 contract after the pandemic began last year – something he considered during early outbreaks – he never did so at the start of the season. According to league sources, the proposal is intended to protect MLB from a worsening national situation, be it a COVID-19 variant resistant to the vaccine or an unexpected spike in certain cases.
The language gives Manfred the right to act when government restrictions prevent more than five teams from playing at the same time, when travel is restricted, or when “competitive integrity is undermined by players sitting due to COVID-19,” according to sources. Both sides, the sources said, would retain their right to take legal action. The disagreement over the breadth of the language could be changed if the sides negotiate further.
MLB’s desire to postpone the season is based on the recommendation of health experts, according to league sources, and the likelihood that it would allow the 2021 season to run when COVID-19 cases have declined – particularly in Arizona, where so currently the case is the highest odds in the country and where half of the league holds spring training. Cases in Arizona and Florida have recently decreased, and health officials believe they will decrease even further by the start date of the proposal.
The potential for an agreement is possible, but the animus and distrust between the sides is deep enough that the sources have been doubtful about the likelihood of a deal. Something as simple as the timing of the offer is a point of contention. League officials were frustrated with the union when it turned down the possibility of a delay in December unless players were paid to play 162 games – something the league agreed to in its proposal. In messages sent by player representatives to the union’s base received from ESPN on Sunday, they called the proposal an MLB “tactic” just before spring training.
The last deal the teams made resulted in months of back-and-forth about when the 2020 season should start and Manfred wrapped up a 60-game season in which they couldn’t agree. Both sides accused the other of the bad will, and the drop in those negotiations can still be felt today as baseball figures out what the 2021 season will look like.
The union’s eight-member executive council and players’ representatives were briefed on the offer, which sources said had been made on Friday, and were skeptical of the path to a deal. They believe sources said the terms of the offer – including expanding the postseason from 10 to 14 teams and adding the designated batsman to the National League – would include the terms of the offer, as players are entitled to payment under the collective agreement of 162 games. – Don’t offer enough to push back the season.
In the absence of an agreement, there are two options.
The first and most likely source would be teams and players showing up at their spring training venues on their reporting dates and proceeding as planned. The other is that Manfred is invoking the national contingency clause in the collective bargaining agreement and suspending the unified players contract – a possibility that, however, guarantees the sides will face each other in court, a prospect that sources say is unattractive to both.
MLB’s desire to postpone the season has been clear for months. There are currently almost twice as many daily COVID-19 cases as there were on July 24, 2020 when MLB’s 60-game season began. The possibility of individual teams breaking out remains acute. The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals have missed long distances due to breakouts over the past year and have had to add double heads to their schedules to reach nearly their full gamut.
It’s not just the fear of an outbreak that makes owners want to postpone the season. This would allow the coronavirus vaccine to spread more widely and increase the likelihood of fans going to stadiums – and local health officials allowing more fans to enter stadiums. In talks with the union, the league claimed it lost billions of dollars over the past season – a number that has not been confirmed. With stadium revenue non-existent in the 2020 regular season, revenue has undoubtedly been in decline.
The frustration with what MLB thought was a reasonable compromise was palpable on Sunday. The talks with the union were obvious, and at the time two players said it was probably too late to reach an agreement. While the players said they realize a delay might be pragmatic, it would be if some players are already in the spring training cities – and all of them have accommodations that they would have to cancel, which is likely thousands and even Costing tens of thousands of dollars would be impractical.
“We are ready to play,” said one player. “The NFL is playing. The NBA is playing. The NHL is playing. The colleges are playing. Why shouldn’t we play?”
The NBA cut their season by 10 games in early November – about three weeks before training camps opened and six weeks before the first games. The NHL shortened its season by around a third. Both had a shortened season that ended later than usual. MLB’s season ended on time after an extended postseason, which the league would like to implement again.
The union was skeptical, fearing that expanding the playoffs would have a negative impact on the free agent market as teams would be more likely to play for an overall win in the 1980s than the 1990s. The league and the team’s executives disagree, arguing that the extended postseason – in this case three wildcard streaks in each league – is better for the sport’s long-term health. In the proposal, MLB guaranteed a $ 80.9 million pool for players participating in the postseason.
Getting to this point is imperative, of course, and the league believes that a delay makes it more likely to occur – and that the players are more likely to play the scheduled games in order to receive their full salary. Without an agreement, the extended playoffs could be off the table by 2022, and the universal DH, double header with seven innings and a runner starting in additional innings on second base would be in the air.