The players basically have told MLB let’s cut to the end game — the next move should be informing the union how many games the owners are willing to play at full prorated salaries.
The union told MLB on Saturday it will not be making a counter to the league’s latest proposal. Instead, union executive director Tony Clark said in a statement, “It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile. It is time to get back to work. Tell us where and when.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred has the rights via the sides’ March 26 agreement to impose a season of any length as long as the players receive their full prorated salary. The league has insisted that would be a last resort, but has indicated such a season would be between 48-54 games.
If MLB imposes a season, the union will almost certainly counter by not agreeing to any additional perks that the league seeks such as expanded playoffs and microphones on players during games. The union will then probably file a grievance claiming owners failed to meet the good faith condition of trying to play as many games as possible, putting into an arbitrator’s hands whether to provide the players with hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages.
But the players would be obligated to report to camp, though any player could opt out. Players who have been deemed high risk for bad outcomes if they contract COVID-19 can opt out and still receive salary and service time. What will be intriguing is how many non-high risk players make a statement by also staying away. Players who need service time to, say, reach free agency such Mookie Betts, James Paxton, J.T. Realmuto and Marcus Stroman would probably feel compelled to play. However, players who have long-term contracts and, thus, no sizable need to accrue service time could stay away.
What would the sport look like — and how, for example, would TV partners feel — if suddenly the league started up again without players such as Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Mike Trout? No player has publicly said he will not show up, so this becomes a wait-and-see part of the fallout if there is no agreement. And the actions Saturday took MLB closer to no settlement and Manfred having to impose a season after he has publicly stated there will be games this year.
MLB’s third formal proposal came Friday for 72 games at 70 percent prorated salary with the potential to make another 10 percent if the playoffs are concluded and then an additional $50 million player pool for those who compete in the postseason. The total would take the players to 83 percent if the World Series is completed.
But in a letter to MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem, union lead negotiator Bruce Meyer wrote that MLB’s first proposal was for 70 percent guaranteed and nothing has changed, except the players having to take the risk the playoffs are concluded to receive more. Meyer said in his letter: “We have made clear numerous times that players are not willing to accept less than their full prorated salaries for playing games.”
The exchange of information via email and heightened strident letters (Halem sent one Friday) has continued the pathway of no formal bargaining and greater incendiary behavior by both parties. Neither side is showing any signs of concession or peaceful tones. Both are acting now like an imposed season and a grievance are inevitable and are creating legal cases to defend their positions.
In his letter, Meyer disputed MLB’s descriptions that the union knew the March 26 agreement was formalized with the players association understanding the players would have to take a salary cut if games were contested without paying fans. Meyer states Clark let MLB know “any request for further pay cuts would be a significant challenge and would require full financial transparency (which we have not gotten) to even have a meaningful discussion.” As part of lacking information, Meyer includes The Post’s report Saturday that MLB has agreed with Turner on a new TV contract, citing the union being unaware of this despite a request that included notification about any ongoing TV or sponsorship negotiations.
Meyer also criticized MLB’s “underhanded tactics to circumvent the union” and listed the players’ view of delay strategies in negotiations. In the last 10 days or so, though, the sides have gone back and forth in making offers, but have rejected each other’s proposals and made offers they knew the other would spurn. Until Saturday, when the union did not respond at all with an offer. Instead, the union challenged MLB to say what it was willing to do for prorated salaries.
From Meyer’s letter: “Given your continued insistence on hundreds of millions of dollars of additional pay reductions, we assume these negotiations are at an end. If it is your intention to unilaterally impose a season, we again request that you inform us and our members of how many games you intend to play and when and where players should report. It is unfair to leave players and the fans hanging at this point, and further delay risks compromising health and safety. We demand that you inform us of your plans by close of business on Monday, June 15.”
MLB did not immediately respond to the union ultimatum.