What is Going on With Baseball?

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Oh, MLB, what are you doing to yourself? After a short time in which some baseball was apparently going to happen this season, we are now back in wonder mode and there have been several developments that suggest that major league baseball may not happen this year at all.


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We’ve been tracking the labour relations between MLB and the MLBPA and things have been getting ugly. MLB has been fundamentlly offering the prospect of a longer season and expanded playoffs, but only if the players accept a cut to their pro-rated salaries, and the players, who risk everything by playing any kid of a season, have been having none of that.

It all revolves around the interpretation of their agreement back in March in which the both sides agreed to pro-rated salaries for the players. The owners have been choosing to interpret that as being in the case that fans are in the stands watching while the players have been interpreting this as being that they get their pro-rated salary based on the number of games they play, regardless of whether there are any fans in the stadium.

MLB is saying that what they actually agreed to was that they would pay the pro-rated salaries if there were fans in the stands but if they would play to empty stadiums, they would need to come to an agreement to pay players less.

Well, clearly that isn’t flying with the players. They’re claiming that the owners, who have essentially been offering the players about a third of their salary (by offering to play a longer season but with a reduced percentage of their pro-rated salaries), are not bargaining in good faith.



The effect of this is that most of the “bargaining” is being done in the media with the union and the players telling MLB to just tell them when and where to show up and they’ll play under the March agreement, in which they would receive their full pro-rated salaries for the games that commissioner Rob Manfred decides they’ll play.

Manfred, who holds the ability to mandate a season (of any length) under the terms of the March agreement, has gone from guaranteeing at the draft that baseball would be played this season to qualifying that opinion by saying that there’s doubt that there will be a season in 2020.

What seems to be happening (thanks to some great reporting by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic) is that there is enough dissention in the owners ranks to complicate things. Rosenthal and Drellich report that there are enough owners who wouldn’t want to start a season playing full pro-rated salaries to block Manfred’s mandated season from being implemented.

On the players’ side, if the league mandates a shortened season, they would go along with that but then file a labour grievance (reportedly worth a billion dollars), saying that the league bargained in bad faith, taking the matter to arbitration. According to Rosenthal and Drellich, MLB has since sent a letter suggesting that they could either waive their right to file the grievance, they could go to arbitration, or they could keep negotiating.


All of this puts the potential of playing a 2020 up in the air, but not nearly as much as the spectre of COVID-19, instances of which have been rising throughout the United States (particularly if you take the New York City numbers out of the national equation). With more and more of the US opening up for business, COVID numbers are on the rise, with Florida being one particularly scary example as record numbers of positive tests being reported recently, getting more than 2000 cases two days in a row.


The continued rise of COVID-19 cases in the US has been made more real with Joel Sherman’s report in the New York Post that an MLB player (on a 40-man roster) and a pitching coach have both tested positive for the coronavirus. While no names were leaked, this development, combined with the rise of cases in Florida (likely the site of at least two teams playing games and possibly more) further complicate the matter of the players’ health if baseball does return.


We’ll keep an eye on what’s going on but it looks like things are more up in the air than they appeared to be just a few days ago.


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