MLB’s Statement Vilifies Players, Paints Owners as Good Guys

I’ll try to spare you too much of my soapbox preaching on this, even though I already exercised a little bit of restraint by waiting until this morning to address the topic. No guarantees, though, since I tend to get rolling when I take the pulpit. Not long after the MLBPA issued a statement saying there would be no more negotiations on the financial parameters of the 2020 season and demanding that MLB set the number of games by Monday, the league responded with a scathing statement of its own.

We are disappointed that the MLBPA has chosen not to negotiate in good faith over resumption of play after MLB has made three successive proposals that would provide players, Clubs and our fans with an amicable resolution to a very difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The MLBPA understands that the agreement reached on March 26th was premised on the parties’ mutual understanding that the players would be paid their full salaries only if play resumed in front of fans, and that another negotiation was to take place if Clubs could not generate the billions of dollars of ticket revenue required to pay players. The MLBPA’s position that players are entitled to virtually all the revenue from a 2020 season played without fans is not fair to the thousands of other baseball employees that Clubs and our office are supporting financially during this very difficult 2020 season. We will evaluate the Union’s refusal to adhere to the terms of the March Agreement, and after consulting with ownership, determine the best course to bring baseball back to our fans.

It’s almost as though the league’s counsel went out to Facebook to see how people were criticizing the players and tailored this statement to appeal specifically to them. You’ve got the accusation of players acting in bad faith, yet another claim that the league has made legitimate efforts to present amenable proposals, then a twisting of the players’ demands to make it seem as though they want a certain chunk of revenue rather than simply getting paid based on the agreement.

Ah, but therein lies the crux of the matter, which is what exactly was agreed upon in terms of that memorandum of understanding from March. The league has been adamant that it would lose too much money without fans in attendance and that the agreement allowed for additional negotiations based on that, yet it has produced neither complete financial records nor the full text of the MOU in order to back its assertions.

It’s almost as though the league made a deal the owners realized afterward wasn’t entirely to their liking, so now commissioner Rob Manfred and deputy commissioner Dan Halem are driving a furious obfuscation campaign. They’re wagging the dog, making it appear as though the greedy players are the ones unwilling to bend when it’s the owners who are in fact the more rigid party in these negotiations.

Take, for example, the players’ offer to defer a portion of this season’s salary pool into future seasons to alleviate some of the cash flow issues this year. Owners have contended that such a move would simply kick the financial strain down the road and that the only way to move forward with more than 50-some games is for players to take another pay cut.

But that may not be the case, according to something Bruce Meyer, MLBPA’s chief negotiator, shared with Bill Shaikin of the LA Times. Meyer says Manfred told the union that teams “were not interested in salary deferrals because they could easily borrow the money at miniscule [sic] interest rates.” Now wait just a goshdarn minute, I thought the whole problem with this mess was that owners had already taken on too much debt.

If they can easily get loans to make payroll, why not just borrow enough to give players their full salaries? I’m no expert, but that sure seems like a pretty easy solution. It also seems like Manfred is telling on himself and MLB, revealing that it’s not actually about whether or not teams can pay their players. What should have been clear from the start and is even more so now is that teams can indeed pay full prorated salaries even without fans.

Thing is, they just don’t want to.

Nor does the league want to look at the poor optics created by what amounts to a public tantrum being thrown by the people charged with leading its operations. Halem’s snarky preface to the league’s most recent proposal was indicative of someone who has made these negotiations a matter of personal pride. Once things have gotten that far and parties are sniping at each other publicly rather than engaging in meaningful conversation, there’s not much left to do.

That’s why the union made its demand. The players know nothing further can come from the contentious talks, so they’re acquiescing to the league’s decision on how many games will be played and when the season will start. On this matter, the players have been clear from the start: They want to play as many games as possible at full prorated pay.

I’ll reiterate that last part again for the folks who still mistakenly believe the players are trying to get their full-season salaries. Players agreed in March not to pursue their full guaranteed salaries, but to take them on a per-game basis that would see them paid only for the number of games eventually played. So if you’re wondering why they’re balking at 80% of their pay, it’s because that’s the portion of their per-game salaries the league is targeting.

In the end, it could amount to less than 30% of what they’d anticipated prior to the pandemic. That’s money they can’t make up in future seasons. Owners, on the other hand, just benefited from a new broadcast deal with Turner Sports that increases annual revenues by around $150 million per season. Expanded playoffs would generate even more money. This is stubbornness, plain and simple.

Contrary to what some are saying, I think these latest contentious statements are as clear a sign as ever that we’ll have a season in 2020. Manfred said last week that he was 100% certain of it and the players have said they’re ready and just want to get back on the field. So the comments from the league are a matter of swaying public perception to make it seem as though MLB is bringing the game back to its fans in spite of the players’ unwillingness to make something work.

It’s all pretty gross and tiring, particularly when you look forward to how ugly it’s going to get with the new CBA. Or maybe the owners will finally make the decision to jettison Manfred, Halem, and others in favor of leadership that actually likes the sport and wants to see it grow stronger in more ways than just increasing revenue. Gosh, what a novel concept.

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