MLB did not make a formal economic proposal as part of its presentation Tuesday to the Players Association on how it sees restarting the season.
The sides met for 90 minutes, broke, then continued for another hour, with MLB focusing heavily on the protocols for how it believes it could keep the players and support staff safe and healthy should they return to a second spring training in about a month.
The union had anticipated MLB would include its proposal for a 50-50 revenue share with players this season rather than the prorated salaries the Players Association is expecting its membership to receive. MLB did make a presentation about its perception of economics in the game this year, however there was no proposal on salary reduction or revenue sharing as had been expected.
The sides did not make a set day to pick up talks, but MLB was expected to provide even more information to the union as early as Wednesday about health and safety issues, with the coronavirus pandemic still causing substantial illness and death in the country. Both sides recognize there cannot be a season without confidence that safety and health risks are minimal, that there is a plan in place for how to move forward if someone involved in the sport tests positive for the virus and that MLB is not draining tests, equipment or personnel needed for more essential services.
The tradition when these entities meet on major issues is that MLB presents ideas and/or proposals. The union asks questions, but is mainly in listening mode. Then the union takes some time to either offer more questions and/or counteroffers.
In addition, the history is that the sides try to gain momentum by tackling the easiest issues first. Perhaps that explains why the economic matter might be shelved for a bit, considering the rhetoric was already getting heated before the sides even met Tuesday.
But following the standard negotiating playbook is trickier now, in part because this is an attempt to return from an unprecedented event. Also because of a ticking clock that will make it difficult even to spend too much time gaining momentum with the low-hanging-fruit items.
There is a lot of doubt that MLB could meet its most aggressive plans for spring training 2.0 in mid-June and a season beginning in the July 1-4 window. But if the goal is to try to have a deal in place to make that bold proposal happen, the sides have roughly 2-3 weeks to negotiate because teams believe they will need that time to put all new protocols into place and logistically regather for spring training either in spring sites or home stadiums.
MLB discussed scheduling with the union in the virtual meeting Tuesday. The MLB plan calls for an 82-game season, a schedule in which teams only play within their division and the corresponding division in the other league to cut down on travel and playoffs that would expand from 10 to 14 teams. The use of a DH would become universal, rosters would expand to 30 active, with taxi squads up to 20 for in-season depth without minor league games being played, and the sport would at least begin with no fans in attendance.
All of those changes will necessitate negotiating and give and take. But the large hurdles are going to involve the safety and health pieces, as players worry not just about themselves and those involved in putting on a game, but returning home to family members.
The other major problem to solve involves finances. The union has stated its March 26 agreement with MLB guaranteed players a prorated portion of their 2020 salaries based on games played. MLB said the document says a reconsideration of salaries must be undertaken if there are no revenues from attendance.
The union is loath to accept the 50-50 revenue sharing for a variety of reasons, including its belief any revenue sharing mechanism could be a slippery slope to a salary cap. Plus, the union believes the players do not benefit directly in compensation in years in which MLB’s revenues climb so why should it take a hit in the inverse situation, plus the players will be the ones taking the risk to return without a vaccine.
The owners say that paying the players in full for whatever games are played would just add to what they portray as already staggering monetary losses. They say the league derives 40 percent of its revenue from ticket sales and its subsidiary items such as concessions and parking. MLB has indicated the revenue sharing in this case has nothing to do with a salary cap and would be a one-off to deal with this emergency.
For now, both sides are portraying inflexibility on this issue. Whether that is rhetoric or entrenched positions that can’t be overcome will be revealed in the coming weeks. But after a wait with no idea when the games may begin again, the clock suddenly is ticking.