Word came Monday that the owners had put together a season-rebooting proposal to send the Major League Baseball Players Association. Within hours, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told The Athletic players would not take a further salary cut. And, the rock fight was underway.
The two things for the sides to talk about most are health and revenue. The players -- and their partners -- want to know how the league is going to minimize their risk when returning to work. Once that is established, the true debate starts. How the money is split will determine if baseball is played in 2020. It's the paramount issue because it's the most divisive. Everyone wants safety. Everyone also wants their maximum piece of the take.
Which leads to the tricky part: in a climate where unemployment and illness has skyrocketed, feuding about millions -- or even billions -- of dollars is a tough look. Neither side wants the perceived brunt of the responsibility if baseball does not start because of squabbles over finances.
Both the owners and players have touted baseball's return as a salve for the country. Commissioner Rob Manfred began pushing the idea a week after spring training ended. Players, including Ryan Zimmerman, have echoed the line of thought. Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Zimmerman in backing the idea. They all think their industry can be part of a recovery.
But, excessive feuding over finances could quickly become an albatross for the league.
The influence of the pandemic has reached deeply into the bank accounts of the average American, whereas twelve players were set to each make more than $30 million this year.
Owners are even more flush. The Nationals, according to a source, make roughly $1 million per home game. Forbes' MLB franchise valuations lists the Miami Marlins as the only franchise worth less than $1 billion, and that's only by $20 million. The Nationals are now in the top 10 on the list, ranked 10th thanks to a $1.9 billion valuation, a nine percent increase year-over-year. No franchise on the list grew more the last 12 months.
Any financial debate between the well-off is always ill-received by the public at-large. This discussion will be taking place in an unprecedented climate, making all the more volatile.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona was on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt on Tuesday night. He summarized the looming discussions this way:
"I think all the parties involved are smart enough to know we need to have baseball be a celebration of sorts rather than a PR nightmare."
If the pandemic wiped out the season, people would be disappointed, but understand. If the safety logistics couldn't be figured out to a point where risk was minimized to the point of reasonable acceptance, people would be disappointed, but understand. If a future coronavirus flare up snuffed out the rebooted schedule, again, disappointment, but understanding. If the union and owners can't start the season because of bickering about finances? There will be anger. And no understanding.
The owners began with leverage by sending the first proposal and including the phrase "50-50." That, on the surface, seems a viable, good-natured offer. It's not. It's a non-starter from the union's view, something the owners are more than aware of.
The hope -- if you want to see baseball this year -- is it's a starting, and not hard, line. It's the bottom. It's an opener in order to meet somewhere else. Even if it makes the union immediately flash its teeth.
The players will display their situation this way: they understand and respect the perspective of an average-salary worker. They empathize with anyone who has lost their job. However, this is their work climate, and within this climate, they are being asked to take a pay cut while assuming a risk after already agreeing to a salary reduction. To them, the total numbers are less the issue. It's more the framework as it relates to their employee-employer relationship.
Also in the mix is the idea of a slippery slope. Whatever is instituted this season -- and only applied to this year -- could come around again in 2021 when the two sides need to negotiate a new CBA following next season's conclusion. If the owners convince the union to agree to revenue sharing now, why wouldn't they try to do it again?
The next week-plus will be ugly. The sides will agree to an universal DH, increased rosters and expanded postseason. The number of games and timeline will be hashed out. A start date will be picked. All the safety protocols will be drilled down. Then, the fight over the money will be the only thing between baseball resuming or it remaining dormant. And, if that fight is not resolved now, it will have repercussions later.
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