The Major League Baseball Players Association on Monday night formally rejected the offer from MLB owners to delay the start of the 2021 season by a month, as expected.
Let’s take the MLBPA statement point by point.
Late last week, the MLBPA for the first time this offseason received a proposal from MLB to delay Spring Training and Opening Day by approximately one month.
The fact that it took this long into the offseason for there to be any sort of proposal to change the schedule is frustrating in its own right, but that MLB owners made their offer with less than three weeks before spring training reporting dates made for a potential logistical nightmare. As an agent noted on Sunday:
Hundreds of players are reporting to AZ and FL in the next 7-10 days. They already booked and paid for housing.— Rafa Nieves (@mlb_agent) January 31, 2021
Under the proposal, the end of the season would be delayed one week, the regular season would be shortened to 154 games and all 30 teams would be required to play several doubleheaders. Players would also be required to accept previously rejected proposals that link expanded playoffs with expansion of the designated hitter.
A normal season is 162 games in 186 days, but under the revised ownership proposal the season would be 154 games in 166 days, per the Associated Press, and after factoring in doubleheaders, starting with 18 off days instead of 24.
The expanded postseason, which would come with an increase in revenue for MLB in a broadcast deal with ESPN, is the most valuable bargaining chip in the deal. Per the collective bargaining agreement, the players’ share of the postseason pool is derived from a share of gate receipts. In 2019, with relatively full stadiums, the total players pool totaled $80,861,145.74.
Last year, with no fans in the stands until the NLCS and World Series, the players and owners worked out a deal to guarantee players $50 million for the postseason. The current owners’ proposal this year guaranteed $80 million for the final three rounds, plus 60 percent of the first two games of all the wild card rounds, per the Associated Press. Jeff Passan at ESPN reported the total guarantee as $80.9 million.
As Ken Rosenthal noted at The Athletic on Sunday, “The players did not view the increase as significant, believing they might get a similar amount from the usual share of the gate receipts if fans are back in the stands by October.”
In other words, the owners didn’t offer the players enough incentive to accept the expanded postseason, which would bring extra revenue to the owners.
This seems like something, along with the universal designated hitter, that can and will be negotiated before the season starts. But it won’t come with a delay in the start of the season, it seems.
Although Player salaries would not be initially prorated to a 154-game regular season, MLB’s proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delays, interruptions, or cancellation of the season.
Perhaps the biggest nominal gain for the players from the owners’ proposal was getting paid for 162 games despite playing 154. But that also came with fewer off days and more doubleheaders, which presents a larger injury risk.
There is already a CBA that calls for a 162-game season over 186 days, and per Passan on Sunday, “players believe language in the proposal would grant commissioner Rob Manfred power beyond what he currently has to cancel games and, accordingly, potentially cut into players’ pay.”
In other words, full pay might not necessarily be full pay, or at least is less likely to be full pay than under the current CBA. For what it’s worth, MLB reportedly offered to rectify at least part of this.
“This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport by merely moving the calendar of the season back one month for health and safety reasons without impacting any rights either the players or the Clubs currently have under the Basic Agreement or Uniform Player’s Contract for pay and service time,” Major League Baseball released in a statement.
The two sides seem quite far apart.
The MLBPA Executive Board and Player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners’ proposal throughout the weekend and today. The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that Players will not accept MLB’s proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB’s commitment to again direct its Clubs to prepare for an on-time start.
We do not make this decision lightly. Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalizing enhanced health and safety protocols that will help Players and Clubs meet these challenges.
This harkens back to the #WhenAndWhere collective message from the players in their negotiations last summer. With games in the NFL, NBA, and NHL currently being played in home cities, it’s a hard sell that MLB should pause.
While it might actually be prudent to delay the start of the season, what the owners really want is more games with the possibility of more fans in the stands. And the offer they made to achieve that end wasn’t enough to get the players to move.
MLB said in a statement, “In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols.”
So it’s back to the normal schedule, which for the Dodgers means pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch on Feb. 17, and a first full-squad workout on Feb. 23.