MLB’s Proposal Includes Expansion to 16 Playoff Teams, No Qualifying Offers, ‘Acknowledgement of Risk’ Waiver

We’ve already broken down MLB’s financial situation six ways from Sunday, so I’ll spare you too much more analysis here. What I’d like to do then is to lay out some of the details of the latest proposal to the MLB Players Association, as relayed by ESPN’s Jeff Passan (Twitter thread here). This is yet another instance of the owners leaking information to the media in order to allow the public a full view behind the curtain of negotiations, a process that appears to be working in their favor.

While those who’ve followed this process closely and have a more complete grasp of what’s happening might not be swayed by such tactics, it’s easy to see how the average fan might side with ownership in these situations. The greedy players are already being paid millions to play a child’s game, they reason, so they should just shut up and take what they can get at a time when unemployment remains incredibly high. If someone views it that way, it’s difficult to reason with them.

The luxuries granted MLB owners by the league’s anti-trust exemption, which has facilitated well over a decade of increasing revenue and franchise values, simply don’t factor for most folks. So rather than chastise those same owners when they’re in a cash flow pinch because they’re over-leveraged and aren’t very liquid, fans often opt for the easier target and grumble about the people with whom they most closely identify: the players.

The league’s proposals are like offering a bad trade in fantasy sports and trying to convince the other part that it’s good because it’s 3-for-1, or like offering a child two dimes in exchange for a quarter. There are, however, some concessions in this latest proposal that make sense as part of a better offer. Let’s take a look at the various aspects of Monday’s offer and see what can be improved upon.

  • 76-game season
    • Start around July 10
    • End on September 27
  • No qualifying offers following 2020 season
    • Teams can receive draft picks if they lose FAs, but there would be no draft-pick penalties
    • Comp picks if FA signs $35M+ mulit-year or $17.8M+ one-year deal
  • Potential for up to 75% of full prorated salaries ($1.43B total)
    • 50% of prorated salaries during regular season ($955M)
    • Postseason kicker of $393M
    • Bonus pool of $50M for playoff teams to share
    • Forgive $34M of $170M advance to players
  • Up to 16 playoff teams (8 per league)
  • Potential for players to opt-out of 2020 season
    • “High risk” players still get salaries and service time
    • Players not deemed high risk receive neither

The removal of the qualifying offer and the draft-pick penalties that go along with it appears to be a nice little olive branch from the owners. That’s one area in which the union really hosed up negotiations on the current CBA despite the QO having been a point of contention, and it’s one reason salaries went down in 2019. That said, this shift isn’t going to mean quite as much when free agency already figures to be suffocated by the shortened season.

What really stands out as a non-starter is that there has to be a postseason in order for players to go beyond half of their prorated salary figures. I want to make it clear here because it’s obvious not everyone understands how this works: Players have already agreed to be paid on a per-game basis. For the sake of ease, let’s say a guy gets paid $5,000 per game. The union believes he should be paid that amount for every games of the schedule, but the league is only willing to guarantee him $2,500 per game.

That same player could get another $1,250 per if there is a postseason, essentially a revenue share of the league’s TV broadcast rights. But even then you’re talking about three-quarters of what the players believe they’re due, and it’s still not guaranteed.

Then there’s the matter of having to sign an “acknowledgement of risk” waiver, which Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times says the players view as basically CYA by the league. If players agree to the inherent risks of returning to play, some believe the league will be indemnified from a potential failure to adequately maintain a safe working environment.

Even if you don’t dig into the details, it’s clear that the two sides here don’t really like or trust one another and aren’t going to take these offers at face value. That’s what happens when past negotiations have unfolded like a game of Risk in which owners and players are trying to gobble up more and more territory. And when the owners have been far more successful, the players are understandably loath to cede ground on any front.

It seems reasonable to find a compromise that includes full prorated salaries over a season of 60+ games, with the QO stricken from the offseason and playoff bonuses still in the mix. Perhaps salary deferrals can factor into that as well, as players have already offered to spread money out into the future based on additional revenue coming in from an expanded postseason.

Both sides appear willing to get something done, the only problem is that they both want to come out unanimous winners and the players don’t trust the owners. Not exactly a recipe for success, which is why I continue to believe that the end result will be a mandate from the league for a severely shortened season that the players are forced to accept. We’ll see, I guess.

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