Major League Baseball’s return plans have overcome one hurdle on Monday morning, but the hardest may still lie ahead.
MLB officials would meet Tuesday with representatives of the MLB Players Association, who are sure to be concerned with precautions to ensure their health and plans to further cut their salaries, the latter of which could be a deal breaker for the union.
MLB owners on Monday morning approved the frame for a season of 82 games that would begin around the weekend of July 4, according to multiple reports. Games would initially be played in empty baseball fields, but where possible in the teams’ home cities, according to reports.
The proposal to start the season in early July would also likely mean the cancellation of the All-Star Game, which would take place on July 14 at Dodger Stadium.
While players are weighing the proposal, they will undoubtedly want to know how the sport will function with regard to the coronavirus. Previous public ideas have called for players to be quarantined with their families to protect them from the virus. It is unclear what measures are in the current proposal and what would happen if a player tests positive.
Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle said via Twitter that the “most important” parts of a plan are “health protection for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the staff needed to resume a season.”
The financial consequences for players are also significant.
The proposal reportedly includes a 50-50 income split between owners and players. Major League Baseball has never had a similar income-sharing plan, with players setting salaries regardless of the sport’s earnings.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has limited the sport in playing games for fans, which would lower the sport’s revenues. Television revenue from playing games in empty baseball fields would be only part of the teams’ normal income.
Players already agreed that their regular salaries would be paid pro rata – if 50 percent of the schedule is played, players would receive 50 percent of their salary. If many of those games are played in empty baseball fields, the salaries of the players would be further reduced.
Tony Clark, head of the union, told the Athletic on Monday that they would not agree to revenue sharing.
“A system that limits players’ salaries based on earnings is a salary limit,” said Clark. “This is not the first salary limit proposal our union has received. It probably won’t be the last.
“That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they haven’t achieved in the past – and to negotiate anonymously through the media in recent days – suggests they know exactly how it will be received.
“None of this is beneficial to the process of finding a way to get back on the field safely and resume the 2020 season – which remains our only focus.”
If there is no agreement and the season is not played at all, players will receive a total of $ 170 million in April and May and nothing else. That’s about 4 percent of the salary they would earn a full season.
The hope is that teams could start selling tickets later in the season, perhaps not for the full capacity of their baseball field.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who said he does not expect any matches in this state with fans in the near future, said Monday that any return for baseball will be subject to state-imposed security measures.
“I spoke to the Major League Baseball Commissioner and he said that we will not do anything that is not in accordance with the state guidelines, so I am not worried about what they are doing as long as it is in accordance with the state guidelines,” said Newsom. “We’ll see where we’ll be in July.
“We certainly look forward to Major League Baseball and all sports will be resumed, but again the question is when and that will be determined on the basis of public health and public safety.”
The owners’ proposal also reportedly calls for a new schedule, which would restrict teams to competitions within their division and the corresponding division in the other league. The Angels and Dodgers would only play games within AL West and NL West.
According to a report in the athletic, teams would play four series of three games against the other four teams in their division and two series of three games against each of the five teams in the corresponding division in the other league. That’s a total of 78 games, although a few extra games could be added with series of four games.
The playoffs would reportedly be expanded to seven teams in each league, with the team with the best record getting a goal and the other six playing best-of-three series to determine which four teams advance to the best-of- five division series.
Both leagues would also adopt the designated hitter for the 2020 season, according to reports.
Under the proposal, teams would begin a custom spring training restart in early to mid-June, with teams able to train in their home cities or return to Arizona or Florida.
Teams would also have expanded their rosters to 30 instead of 26, which would help explain that pitchers are not prepared as thoroughly after a shortened training period. The teams would also keep a team of inactive players to replace injured players, as there would likely be no minor league games. Minor League Baseball cannot function financially without fans.
The additional grid spots certainly provide players with an incentive to accept the offer of ownership, even with the option of further cutting their salary.