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There’s a path to a deal for MLB players and owners

Still “contentious,” but potential reasons for optimism

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MLBPA executive director Tony Clark answers questions about Astros sign stealing scandal Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday via Getty Images

The players reported offer to owners seems as likely to be rejected as last week’s owners’ proposal to players. But it seems there are hints that a deal could be reached between the two sides.

Ronald Blum at the Associated Press described the meeting between the two sides Sunday regarding the players proposal:

The plan was given to MLB during an 80-minute digital meeting among Commissioner Rob Manfred, deputy commissioner Dan Halem, union head Tony Clark and union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer. The meeting was contentious, a person familiar with it said.

It was bound to be contentious, given how far apart the two sides are. Financially the main sticking point is that the players in March already agreed to salary cuts, pro-rated to the length of the season. Owners, meanwhile, proposed cutting that even further. The biggest losses were for the highest-paid players, like David Price ($32 million) getting less than a third of even his pro-rated amount. Alex Wood, whose $4 million salary is near enough the league average, would have received about 58 percent of his pro-rated amount under the owners’ proposal.

Max Scherzer, on the players union executive council, tweeted last week there was no reason for the players and owners to continue to even discuss salary cuts because the owners haven’t shown them financial data to support their claims of losses massive enough to justify such drastic reductions. The sides were so far apart, Scherzer felt compelled to tweet, something he did only three other times in the previous 19 months.

The players’ proposal asks for a 114 game season, and crammed into 124 days, which means fewer off days and many doubleheaders. That also means more salary, since that’s about 70 percent of the season.

Increased salary is likely a reason this proposal gets rejected, but there’s a little more evidence that the owners’ claims of losing over $600,000 each game without fans is dubious at best.

Former players union lawyer Gene Orza suggested that owners actually do want more games, and this is just a negotiating ploy by commissioner Rob Manfred, per Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

He has something he knows he’s going to give you for nothing, but why bother giving it to you for nothing if you might throw it out there without it, and make you demand it, so that he can come back and say, ‘Well, all right, if you want to do it, I mean, OK, but you got to give me something for it.’

Putting aside the negotiating tactics for a moment, a reason for optimism for a potential deal is the players putting salary deferrals on the table, even if somewhat limited. Jeff Passan at ESPN describes the details:

The deferrals would occur only if the playoffs were canceled, a concern the league has voiced, and would total $100 million. They would apply to players whose contracts call for $10 million-plus salaries and include interest to make them whole.

Nobody believes billionaire owners are destitute, and should be able to absorb some losses after years of incredible profits. But it’s reasonable that, especially during a pandemic, there might be cash flow problems for some teams, and deferring some salaries can help alleviate that. Perhaps even more deferrals can help the two sides closer together.

The other parts of the players offer, per multiple reports, that help increase revenues are expanding the postseason in 2021 in addition to 2020, and the offer of holding offseason events like the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Give a little, get a little.

I have no idea if a deal can get done, or how quickly it could get completed. But it sure seems like there is enough common ground for both sides to get a deal done. Eventually. Maybe.