The big news in baseball Wednesday was that Robert D. Manfred Jr. actually acted like a leader for once and flew out to Phoenix in an attempt to meet Tony Clark and the MLBPA in some approximation of the middle. It’s fair to ask why this wasn’t done much earlier or whether the two men serving as their parties’ respective faces are fit for their jobs, but let’s focus for the time being on what came out of the meeting.
“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix,” read a statement from Manfred. “We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents.
“I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today. Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”
It’s important to read this for comprehension rather than simply allowing “agreement” to talk over the rest of the statement. The words that precede and follow temper any definitive announcement and say very clearly that this is anything but a done deal. It is, however, a framework that Clark obviously didn’t hate at the time and that he was apparently willing to pitch to his constituents in the union.
Reports of an agreement are false.
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) June 17, 2020
That’s where we get into semantics, as the owners seem to believe there is at least a tacit agreement in place and the players view it as merely another proposal. It’s a more amenable offer than before, to be sure, but it’ll still need a little work before they’re ready to sign off. Maybe they’ll want to add a few more games to the 60 in the league’s plan and increase the playoff pool to more than $25 million.
Setting aside any specifics, and with full understanding that there’s a lot yet to hammer out on the finer points of a return plan, the players’ immediate response says a lot. Or rather, their lack of response. Reports of previous proposals were met almost immediately with rejection and derision on social media by a number of prominent players. In this case, however, even the most outspoken members of the MLBPA’s ranks have remained mum.
Sean Doolittle hasn’t tweeted about it and his most recent negotiation-adjacent post was a retweet of Ian Happ’s promotion of Obvious Shirts’ “TELL US WHEN AND WHERE” design. Doolittle also shared a thread from union lawyer Eugene Freedman that absolutely eviscerated a Bob Nightengale column that whiffed pretty badly on the whole state of affairs with the last several weeks of negotiations.
Max Scherzer hasn’t posted anything since Monday, when he chided Manfred and the owners for “walking back on their word…AGAIN” after the commissioner told ESPN he was no longer confident about starting the season. I even checked in on Trevor Bauer, who has likewise maintained radio silence on the topic of negotiations. Don’t worry, I didn’t stick around to see what else he was droning on about.
As an aside, Happ has apparently taken over for Kris Bryant as the Cubs’ union rep. That isn’t necessarily germane to the conversation, but the timing is interesting at the very least. Taken in a broader view, Happ has notably and intentionally raised his profile during the shutdown and has proven himself to be quite the renaissance man. He seems to be a willing leader and that’s a very good thing.
Ian Happ says he’s now the player rep for the Cubs. Kris Bryant asked him to take over, though he’s still involved, according to Happ.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) June 17, 2020
None of this is to say the proposal will be accepted, though it does lend a great deal of credence to the idea that Clark is indeed pushing its viability and encouraging the players to work with it. As much as I’ve advocated for the players and will continue to do so throughout this process, it’s difficult to have legitimate negotiations if public rhetoric has already poisoned the waters.
The same is true for Manfred and the owners, who’ve regularly accused the union of operating in bad faith. This isn’t a “both sides” thing, but it’s understandably difficult to make something happen if neither side is actually willing to sit down at the table. To me, the lack of public reaction — specifically the derogatory sniping that has characterized the process so far — is a clear sign that players and owners alike want to get back to the field as soon as possible.
Speaking of which, I want to briefly address the notion that at least six owners — maybe eight or more — would prefer to cancel the season entirely. While it’s possible that claim could be taken at face value, I believe it’s more likely that those owners fear a grievance from the players in response to a unilaterally mandated season and would not agree to allow Manfred to push forward with such a move.
Far be it for me to stan the owners, but in this case the group in question could simply be saying they’d prefer no season to a dramatically shortened campaign that would create more acrimony than already exists. Am I giving them too much benefit of the doubt? Probably.
The players still want more than 60 games and we can expect to find out just how many more here very soon. A push to 66 games would fit well from a timing and scheduling perspective and would give the players a little more money while providing just a skosh more legitimacy. That last concept is a stretch, but we’re talking 10% more games and an extra week of play.
Either way, an abbreviated season sets up the reality of a wild sprint that better resembles a cannonball run than the typical measured pace of 162 games. It all culminates in a postseason that I believe should wholly embrace the absurdity of the whole deal. I don’t like making change for the sake of change, but I’m ready for the inevitable chaos that will be created here. Just tell me when and where.