MLB, MLBPA headed for “disaster” as owners insist players waive right to grievance hearing

“A disaster.”

That’s how Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred described the contentious negotiations that have derailed attempts to begin a 2020 season stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.

And the chance that MLB will not have a season increased dramatically this week when the commissioner’s office told the MLB Players’ Association that it will not begin a season, nor set a schedule unless the MLBPA waives its right to claim that MLB violated the March 26 agreement between the two sides.

The league asked the players to sign away the right to a potential grievance hearing in which the union believes it could pursue perhaps a billion dollars in damages, according to the Los Angeles Times. The owners fear that the MLBPA will argue the owners did not make the “best efforts to play as many games as possible” as required by the March agreement.

“As players, we’ve always been about playing as many games as possible, as long as it’s safe,” a Rockies player said Tuesday, asking for anonymity due to the contentious of the negotiations. “But we don’t see that from the owners. Look, they are going to have the value of their franchise long after all of this is over, but they’re still worried we will come back at them and ask for more money. That’s not what we want. We want to play baseball by the terms we agreed to.”

At the crux of the argument is this: The union said that MLB agreed to pay prorated salaries this season, with or without fans at the games. The league said the union agreed to reopen the discussion if games had to be played without fans.

On Monday, Manfred was asked about baseball’s image as the rest of the sports world is finding ways to start up again.

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it,” he said on a ESPN roundtable. “It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans.”

Last Wednesday, as part of MLB Network’s draft coverage, Manfred was asked whether he could guarantee that the 2020 season would take place in some fashion.

“We’re going to play baseball in 2020, 100 percent” Manfred responded. “If it has to be under the March 26 agreement, if we get to that point in the calendar, so be it. But one way or the other we’re playing Major League Baseball.”

On Monday, however, Manfred walked that back, telling ESPN: “I’m not confident (in a season). I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue.”

Manfred’s about-face created a backlash from many players, including Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s eight-man executive subcommittee, who tweeted: “Rob Manfred and the owners are walking back on their word…AGAIN. The fans do not deserve this. So I’ll say it one more time, tell us when and where.”

By virtue of an agreement reached March 26 in the wake of COVID-19, MLB has the right to hold a season, which would likely be between 48 and 54 games. Players would be paid at a full 100% of their prorated salaries, but there would be no expanded playoffs.

Over the weekend, the MLBPA told MLB that it was done talking and challenged Manfred to begin the season.

“It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

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