Sources: Rob Manfred and players still want a deal, but some MLB owners would cancel 2020 season

Andy Martino

Andy Martino, | Twitter |

When commissioner Rob Manfred said on ESPN Monday night that he was "not confident" that the 2020 MLB season will happen, he was trying to restart negotiations with the Players' Association by injecting urgency into them. He remains hopeful that talks will resume, according to sources.

On the other side, several player agents believed on Tuesday morning that the parties would speak again, and ultimately reach an agreement that included full prorated play for players and an expanded postseason.

There does, however, remain a human element in this process that creates potential volatility. According to two industry sources, there are currently six owners who do not want to play this year (the Athletic reported that the number is eight). A few other owners are unhappy with Manfred's handling of negotiations, according to sources, though their exact complaint is unclear.

Still other owners have pointed their ire not at Manfred, but at agent Scott Boras, who they see as unduly influential to the union's firm stance on receiving full prorated pay. That allegation has long followed Boras -- but whether it's true or not, it has been a bee in the owners' bonnet in recent weeks.

The commissioner is hired, fired and paid by the owners. When Manfred and his deputy Dan Halem negotiate with the Players' Association or speak to the media, they do so as representatives of the owners.

A divided or unhappy coalition would present an additional challenge to reaching an agreement. There are labor hawks and moderates among the 30 owners. There are bottom line-driven technocrats and there are men who savor a day at the ballpark. They're all highly wealthy men, but they don't all agree on the best approach to this negotiation.

In trying to strike a deal with the players, Manfred can't afford to see his constituency crumble. The players are mostly unified about their stance on pro-rata pay, a stridency that has clearly shocked many on the league and ownership side.

A reasonable person can understand the owners' complaint that Boras and others have misrepresented the issue as "settled" by a vaguely worded March 26 agreement. But that doesn't matter anymore, not in practical terms. Clark's union has decided to take a stand, and they're sticking with it.

If the league makes any offer that involves full prorated salaries, a deal will come quickly, and will include two years of expanded playoffs.

Manfred surely prefers this to a lost season that would tarnish his reputation beyond repair. Now the question is, can he corral his owners to achieve this?

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