Major League Baseball is expected to present the MLB Players Association with a new financial proposal Friday, something commissioner Rob Manfred said would be responsive to the players’ demands. That does not mean, however, that owners are willing to pay full prorated salaries over the entirety of a “longer” season.
According to Karl Ravech of ESPN, who was highly critical of the owners during his coverage of the recently concluded draft, Friday’s proposal will be for “roughly 70 plus games” at “80-85 percent of pro rata.” There would also be a playoff bonus pool, which has ranged from $250-400 million in previous proposals, presumably with a postseason that features 16 teams.
Sources tell me MLB counter proposal today will move towards a season of roughly 70 plus games with a salary percentage on the 80-85 percent of pro rata. Playoff pool bonus. My concern are the recent spikes in COVID -19. Worst case would be to start and stop. Will players move?
— Karl Ravech (@karlravechespn) June 12, 2020
This is a slightly different look from previous proposals, all of which have been built around a total payroll target of roughly $1.5 billion or less. Not coincidentally, the first and third proposals both came in at $1.43 billion. So this new one has to be a lot better, right? Not exactly.
A 70-game season at 80% pay amounts to — wait for it — $1.46 billion, nearly the exact same as we’ve seen already. Ravech’s report has a little flex in it, though, so we could even be looking at something as high as 75 games at 85% pay, for a total payroll of around $1.66 billion. Even if we assume the playoff bonus pool is baked into that figure as it has been in previous proposals, it’s at least a little bit higher.
But how much would owners really be saving? The difference between 75 games at full pay ($1.95B) and 80% pay ($1.56B) is $290 million, or $9.67 million per team. It’s only $6.3 million per team if owners are willing to push to 85% over that time, so we’re now talking about minimal differences.
Ravech notes the concerns with recent spikes in COVID-19 across multiple states, which could cause another stoppage or at least prevent fans from attending as early or in as high a percentage as possible. Remember, this whole kerfuffle over pay is based on the idea that revenues will be further suppressed by the absence of fans in the stands. Never mind that both parties should have known when they made that late March agreement that fans would not be at games.
There’s also the idea that fans may indeed be allowed in some capacity, with Texas saying stadiums can operate at 50% capacity once the season resumes. MLB has said it’ll allow teams to determine those attendance parameters based on the guidance of local health authorities, so the premise of losing all revenue from gate and concessions really doesn’t fly.
Yet another potentially damning contradiction is the owners’ contention that the regular season has to end on September 27 in order to preserve postseason broadcast schedules. But wait, wouldn’t an expanded postseason slate do exactly that? The addition of three more playoff teams in each league would require additional broadcasts and time, even if the opening rounds are structured as play-in games.
Unless the actual proposal ends up being significantly better than what Ravech tweeted Friday morning, we’re looking at just a few days before Manfred just has to mandate something the players are forced to either take or leave. All because the owners have remained stubbornly anchored to a number.
Update: Jon Heyman tweeted that the proposal will be for 72 games for more than 80% pay if there’s a postseason. The playoff bonus pool is also expected to be smaller, which is a function of the regular season portion of the proposal being significantly greater than the 50% we’ve seen so far.
MLB expected make 72-game proposal today to players for more than 80 percent of prorated pay if there’s a postseason. MLB also expected to significantly raise the percent from 50% in the event the postseason has to be canceled.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) June 12, 2020
For what it’s worth, 72 games at 85% pay comes out to $1.59 billion and would represent a savings of about $9.33 million per team over going with full salaries.