MLB commissioner Rob Manfred pronounced less than a week ago that “100 percent” that “we’re playing Major League Baseball” in 2020.
Hold that thought.
Manfred held his weekly Monday conference call with the 30 owners and sources told The Post that MLB seriously is considering not playing at all this year if it cannot reach an agreement with the players association.
Manfred later in the day told ESPN that he is “not confident” there will be a 2020 season.
“I’m not confident,” Manfred said. “I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue,” Manfred said when asked whether the season would take place.
At this moment, MLB is not planning on sending another proposal to the union after the players rejected the league’s last bid that could have netted the players as much as 83 percent of their prorated salaries if a postseason was concluded. The union has held firm that it will not play for less than full prorated pay. It said on Saturday that it was done negotiating and that Manfred should just tell the players where to show up and when.
The expectation was that if that impasse continued, Manfred — as is his power from a March 26 agreement with the union — would implement a season of 48-54 games at full prorated pay. That was what gave him the confidence to say before last week’s draft, “We’re going to play baseball in 2020.”
But MLB anticipates that soon after it imposes a season that the union will file a grievance that the league did not live up to its contractual word to try to play as many games as possible this year. MLB would then likely file a counter grievance that the union did not bargain in good faith. The litigation would take a while (perhaps years) to be settled. MLB, though, if it lost could be in position to owe billions of dollars in lost wages for games not played.
However, the March 26 agreement also allows the commissioner not to begin a season unless three conditions are satisfied: 1. There are no governmental restrictions on spectators attending games. 2. There are no relevant travel restrictions in the United States and Canada. 3. That after consultation with recognized medical experts and the union that there are no unreasonable risks to players, staff and spectators to stage games in the 30 home parks.
By those standards, Manfred does not have to start a season because none of the three have been met completely. And since this is a contractually agreed upon position, MLB could argue it does not have to play nor face grievances.
Is this rhetoric? A negotiating ploy to try to gain leverage? A real policy position that now imperils playing any games this year?
The union has believed MLB’s entire strategy has been to play as few games as possible or none at all to limit player salaries. MLB has argued that it was working toward a July Fourth weekend start if it could reach an agreement with the union.