The clock is ticking. But toward what? And when?
A veteran agent who has been through many negotiations said, “Everything in baseball gets done on a deadline.”
But what is the deadline that MLB and the Players Association are working against in trying to among, other items, reach an agreement on how players will be paid? Whose deadline is it?
Because without a firm deadline does either side — currently locked into entrenched opposing positions on finance — truly know when it has to show its last and best offer or blink in a game of chicken?
Most optimistically, MLB wants to be playing regular season games on the July 4 weekend. The symbolism would be great. This would be an opportunity to make a statement that baseball is the national pastime, especially if it were the first North American team sport to get back on the field. That is obviously very good for the owners, but if the sport improves its reputation and fan base there will be residual benefits to the players as well.
So even if you make that the mutual goal, there is no clear drop dead date to make games happen in the first days of July. I have talked to agents and teams that say players can be ready with two weeks of training because: 1) This isn’t the 1990s anymore, players are constantly staying in shape even during a pandemic. 2) Club officials have reached out to most players in recent weeks to urge them to ramp up workouts as optimism rose that there would be a mid-June start to spring training. 3) There will be expanded rosters to limit the strain, especially on pitchers, at the outset.
But there are those worried about routines being disrupted and bodies being more susceptible to injuries with less spring training. They mostly see three weeks as the minimum spring training preparation needed.
A new variable was thrown in this week with players reacting in a unified, aggravated way with MLB’s plan to drastically cut particularly stars’ prorated pay. One agent cautioned, “I suspect some players will now put down their gloves in protest.” If that occurs, that stoppage in pre-camp workouts would necessitate a longer period in camps, at least for that class of players.
This accentuates the moving target of a negotiating deadline, and that is assuming all are in simpatico that a season must start by Independence Day weekend.
But that is not the case. There are differences between best scenario and only scenario.
There are those that believe the 82-game season proposed by MLB has some wiggle room to be pushed back and still end by early October for the postseason. And there are those that see no reason that a three-month regular season can’t be had from August-October, with the playoffs in November.
MLB has balked at this because of concerns that the virus may renew in a stronger way with cooler weather in the fall, imperiling the postseason, which is when the clubs receive their greatest piece of national TV revenue. Also, MLB is worried about sports clutter in November with other events being pushed on the calendar, notably they fret about taking on the more popular NFL for a longer period. Plus, TV partners have cleared an October schedule for postseason games and it could be tougher to find slots in November.
But that doesn’t mean it is impossible to start the season in August. Which just adds to the uncertainty about the kind of negotiating deadline that traditionally creates a ticking clock that compels compromise and ultimately agreement.