MLB commissioner will impose 2020 season after failing to strike deal with union

There will be a baseball season in 2020 — but only because commissioner Rob Manfred is now imposing his will on the players union.

With their weeks-long stalemate continuing after the players union executive board voted 33-5 to reject MLB’s latest 60-game proposal, the league announced Monday night that it will start the process of implementing a season. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, a 60-game schedule is what MLB is looking to impose.

The league released a statement saying it was disappointed that a deal couldn’t be struck with players and has given the union a 24-hour deadline to provide two pieces of information needed to start a 2020 season: whether players can report by July 1 and whether the players will agree to the so-called “operating manual” for the season, which contains the health and safety protocols for a COVID-19 shortened season.

Here is the league’s statement in its entirety:

“Today, the Major League Baseball Players Association informed us that they have rejected the agreement framework developed by Commissioner Manfred and Tony Clark. Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development.

“The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new Postseason format. And, it offered players significant benefits including:

“In view of this rejection, the MLB Clubs have unanimously voted to proceed with the 2020 season under the terms of the March 26th Agreement. The provisions listed above will not be operative.

“In order to produce a schedule with a specific number of games, we are asking that the Players Association provide to us by 5:00 p.m. (ET) tomorrow with two pieces of information. The first is whether players will be able to report to camp within seven days (by July 1st). The second is whether the Players Association will agree on the Operating Manual which contains the health and safety protocols necessary to give us the best opportunity to conduct and complete our regular season and Postseason.”

Baseball fans knew the owners forcing a season was a possibility all along, as the league believed a March agreement with the players union allowed it to impose a season of its liking, so long as players were paid prorated contracts. A season of 60 games is in line with the owners’ latest proposal, which players countered with 70 games.

Commissioner Rob Manfred plans to impose the 2020 season even without the union and the league coming to an agreement. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Commissioner Rob Manfred plans to impose the 2020 season even without the union and the league coming to an agreement. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Matters have been complicated recently as 40 MLB players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19, showing that baseball has another issue to deal with beyond just money. MLB closed all spring training sites and reports of the league considering a “bubble season” have come back after the latest coronavirus cases.

Long-term implications for MLB, union

After years of labor peace, Manfred’s move stands to have implications that could damage relations with the players union in the immediate future and the long-term:

• Leaders on the players’ side have been talking about filing a grievance against MLB if Manfred instituted a season. That grievance would not necessarily derail the season, but last week, owners were concerned that a grievance could cost upward of $1 billion if they were found to not have negotiated in good faith.

• Baseball could be more likely to see a work stoppage after the current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2021 season. The two sides already weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, as these negotiations showed. Getting the two sides on the same page during the next round of CBA talks figured to be tougher now.

How MLB got here

A deal looked promising last week when commissioner Rob Manfred flew to Arizona on Tuesday to meet union chief Tony Clark face-to-face. News of that “productive” meeting was followed quickly with word that MLB had sent players a new proposal and the two sides were closer to a deal than they had been previously. But things quickly fell apart again, and the two sides seemed even further apart than before.

Before striking a deal, there was nothing but ugliness in these negotiations, turning this into a disaster for baseball as a whole and leaving fans wondering whether a short season was even worth this.

The biggest issue all along was player pay. The two sides made an agreement in March when the league shutdown because of COVID-19 but clashed about how it should be applied in a shortened season. The March agreement called for players to get prorated salaries based on the number of games played. Owners asked for an additional pay cut numerous times, citing a potential lack of revenue from games played without fans, but the players were steadfast in their stance.

Some of the owners’ proposals called for players to make between 25 and 35 percent of their normal 162-game salaries. The league believed that the March agreement allowed them to mandate a season of any length, so long as players got prorated salaries without an additional cut. That would give Manfred the ability to impose a shorter season, as he did Monday, with higher player pay that still made owners happy about the bottom line.

This was only to be a last-ditch plan, however, as Manfred and MLB said they would rather come to an agreement with the players union. Things were complicated there, however, when MLB wanted the players to waive the right to file a grievance against the league for negotiating the number of games played in bad faith. Such a grievance, if the players won, could cost owners upward of $1 billion. The threat was enough that some owners reportedly wanted to cancel the season altogether.

Now, baseball will return this summer without having resolved the labor issues that flared for all to see during the shutdown. Many in the industry agree it could be a preview of future labor unrest. The underlying issues aren’t new, and with the league’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire after 2021, many are still expecting a work stoppage.

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