Timeline: How MLB reached an agreement for a 2020 season after 3 frustrating months

Jack Baer
·Writer
·12 min read

At long last, Major League Baseball has announced an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association on how it will hold the 2020 season.

It required MLB commissioner Rob Manfred imposing a season, but MLB’s 30 teams will indeed be playing this year. It will be a shortened 60-game season played in empty stadiums, but that will still be a welcome development for legions of baseball fans.

What came before was a frustrating stretch of squabbling and uncertainty that had Manfred saying the unthinkable at one point, that there might not be an MLB season. Offers were rejected even before they were officially offered, and snipe after snipe was exchanged as the clock ticked down on the potential season.

How did MLB and the MLBPA get through that? Here’s a timeline on a contentious few months of negotiations and soundbites between the league and union.

Plenty more has happened with MLB and the coronavirus, like the league’s avaricious handling of minor-league player pay and cutting down the 2020 MLB draft. We will be focusing on the major events of the league’s negotiations with the MLBPA and how we reached a point where both sides appeared to exit the table, then returned.

March 12: MLB shuts down season over coronavirus concerns

Following the shutdown of the NBA and NHL seasons, MLB put spring training on hiatus and announced the beginning of the season would be delayed by “at least two weeks.” Obviously, that was a dramatic understatement.

March 27: MLBPA agrees to prorated salaries

With much of the season still up in the air, MLB and the MLBPA came to an agreement that seemed to figure all of this out at the time. In exchange for a salary advance and assurances about service time, the MLBPA agreed to not sue for full salaries in the event of a canceled season. It also agreed on prorated salaries in the event the season would have to be shortened, so an 81-game season would supposedly pay out 50 percent of the usual salaries to players.

MLB later contended that agreement was just a starting point, and insisted the players take lower pay on a per-game basis if they wanted to play a season. The MLBPA held firm that such an idea is a non-starter, and that standoff was essentially the foundation of later negotiations.

April: MLB floats various ideas for season

With coronavirus cases still rising across the country, MLB held off on making any real plans for pretty much all of April. There were some test balloons floated about playing the season in an isolated area like the NBA is about to do with Disney World, but nothing that was really taken seriously in the end.

First, the season could be held in total isolation in Arizona. No, wait, Arizona and Florida. What if we threw Texas in there? None of this went anywhere, and both the league and the union later agreed that any season would be held in each team’s home stadium with no fans in attendance.

May 11: MLB owners approve revenue-sharing plan

After two months of hiatus, MLB appeared to take its first step toward reviving the season when owners approved a plan for an 82-game season that would begin around July 4. However, that plan included a revenue-sharing proposal that leaked in the media before it was ever officially proposed, and predictably turned out to be a non-starter for the players.

May 14: MLBPA asks MLB to open its books

Simply put, the MLBPA didn’t trust MLB to give it its full share of the pie, so it requested the league open up its books if it wanted a revenue-sharing plan. Teams have long cried poor and insisted that they aren’t as profitable as people say, but have always been loath to present any real evidence of that fact. That request was also a non-starter.

No formal proposal ever came out of MLB’s revenue-sharing plan.

May 26: MLB offers sliding scale salaries

An actual offer came two-and-a-half months after the season shut down, and it took about two-and-a-half minutes for the players to start saying no.

The plan was built on a sliding-scale model in which higher-paid players saw a larger pay cut. For 82 games, players making the league minimum would receive 72.5 percent of their original salary on a per-game basis while players with salaries above $20 million would get 20 percent.

Many saw the plan as an attempt to turn lower-paid players against their more well-paid colleagues, which did not appear to happen.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 82-game regular season, postseason expanded to 14 teams

  • Payment: sliding scale salaries between 72.5 percent and 20 percent of per-game pay

  • Actual proposal: 23.9 percent of original 2020 salaries, according to Beyond the Box Score’s calculations.

May 31: MLBPA proposes 114-game season with full per-game pay

The MLBPA responded five days later with a plan that saw similar reception from the league. Standing firm on full prorated salaries, the players called for 114 games with full per-game pay between June and Oct. 31.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 114-game regular season, postseason expanded to 14 teams for two years

  • Payment: full prorated salaries

  • Actual proposal: 70.4 percent of original 2020 salaries

June 8: MLB makes its second offer

After a strong reaction from the MLBPA, MLB looked at its first official proposal and offered not much more, and even less if the postseason can’t be played.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 76-game regular season, postseason expanded to 16 teams

  • Payment: up to 75 percent of per-game pay if postseason is played, 50 percent if not

  • Actual proposal: 35.2 percent of original 2020 salaries with postseason and 23.4 percent without postseason

June 9: MLBPA moves down to 89 games

The MLBPA’s second counterproposal moved a step in MLB’s favor by going from 114 games to 89, but still did little to move MLB off its insistence that players must take further pay cuts.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 89-game regular season, postseason expanded to 16 teams for two years

  • Payment: full prorated salaries

  • Actual proposal: 54.9 percent of original 2020 salaries

So far, four official proposals and four immediate rejections from the other side.

June 10: Rob Manfred says there will ‘100 percent’ be a season

With both sides seeming to make some progress, Manfred appeared on MLB Network and made a proclamation that would not last long.

“We’re going to play baseball in 2020, 100 percent,” Manfred said.

That belief was likely rooted in the idea that in the worst-case scenario, Manfred could unilaterally impose a shorter season at fully prorated salaries, said to be around 48 games. In that case, owners would be able to keep costs down while still reaping a decent chunk of television money, and players wouldn’t have to cave on prorated salaries. Of course, it would still be a mockery of a season.

In the event of a 48-game regular season at full pay, you’re looking at 29.6 percent of original 2020 salaries. It wasn’t a formal proposal, but it seemed to be a theoretical baseline. However, the idea also seemed to raise the possibility of the MLBPA filing a grievance against the league.

June 12: MLB’s third offer

Two days later, MLB delivered another proposal. It again asked players to take another pay cut, and threw out a Sunday deadline that unsurprisingly passed without an agreement. Like its previous offer, the league tied salaries to the postseason with slightly better terms.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 72-game regular season, postseason expanded to 16 teams

  • Payment: up to 83 percent of per-game pay if postseason is played, 70 percent if not

  • Actual proposal: 36.9 percent of original 2020 salaries with postseason and 31.1 percent without postseason

June 13: MLBPA asks ‘when and where’

Fed up with MLB insisting on pay cuts, the MLBPA stopped negotiating and released a statement requesting MLB simply tell them how many games they will pay (at prorated salaries) and when/where to report.

That became the players’ official position, intended to put the ball in MLB’s court. Previous reports of Manfred considering a shortened season with full per-game pay seemed to indicate there was a minimum that would work, but MLB decided to go in a different direction.

June 15: Manfred no longer 100 percent, MLB demands no grievance

Whatever optimism remained in negotiations seemed to leave the room on Monday, as Manfred told ESPN he no longer believes there is a 100 percent chance of the season happening:

"I'm not confident. I think there's real risk; and as long as there's no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue," Manfred told Mike Greenberg for ESPN's "The Return of Sports" special.

"It's just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it. 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."

At the same time, it was reported that MLB said there would be no season unless the MLBPA promised not to file a grievance alleging bad faith, a move that seemed questionable unless MLB believed it would lose such a grievance, or wanted to burn time on a still-ticking clock.

The players reacted how you would expect, but one of the more intriguing reactions came from always outspoken Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer. In an extended Twitter thread, Bauer explained his belief that MLB is stalling so it can implement a shorter season, since a 50-game season would end far earlier than the usual late October if put in place now.

True or not, it was clear that all trust had gone completely out the window on both sides.

June 17: MLB makes new proposal after Manfred-Clark meeting

And just like that, optimism again. Major League Baseball sent the players union a new proposal for restarting the 2020 season after a face-to-face meeting between commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark in Arizona.

Reports indicate the proposal involves a 60-game season with the fully prorated salaries players agreed upon in March, and that the season could start by July 19. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal also reported the union may counter seeking more games, but it was widely viewed as a significant step toward ending the protracted fight.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 60-game regular season, postseason expanded to 16 teams

  • Payment: full prorated salaries

  • Actual proposal: 37.0 percent of original 2020 salaries

June 18: Union responds with 70-game proposal

The players association’s counterproposal asked for only 10 more games, but also reportedly sought an increase in playoff money — $50M in bonuses in 2020 and a 50/50 split of new postseason TV revenues in 2021. The total cost difference was estimated at about $300 million.

Regardless, owners were reportedly infuriated by the union countering at all, saying they believed Manfred and Clark had worked out a deal.

The union’s proposal set off another war of statements and barbed quotes through the media.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 70-game regular season, postseason expanded to 16 teams

  • Payment: full prorated salaries

  • Actual proposal: 43.2 percent of original 2020 salaries

June 19: MLB says it will not counter with new offer

Friday night, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported the league won’t counter the players association’s proposal, that there will be no 64 or 66 game compromise.

On a day where positive coronavirus tests surfaced across the sport, the move puts MLB owners back in position to impose a shorter season while running the risk of facing a grievance from the players association over the negotiation.

The union issued a statement saying the league will not play more than 60 games and saying the players were “committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.”

June 22: Players vote against 60-game season, MLB imposes season

Baseball’s last chance at a real agreement ended with a 33-5 vote against MLB’s proposal by the MLBPA. Seemingly left with no other options, Manfred played the card that he had been holding onto for weeks: imposing a season, even if it meant risking a grievance.

Manfred imposed the season, and left it to the players to say whether or not they agreed to a July 1 report date and the league’s proposed health and safety protocols. The latter was pretty important given that 40 players and staff members reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 in the preceding week.

A day later, the MLBPA’s answer came and the season was on, even if the labor fight will still rage for months or even years (the collective bargaining agreement happens to be up after the 2021 season.

June 23: MLB announces a season

Finally.

Details of the plan:

  • Season length: 60-game regular season, no postseason expansion

  • Payment: full prorated salaries

  • Actual proposal: 37.0 percent of original 2020 salaries

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions at a press conference during MLB baseball owners meetings, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Every day is a day lost in the MLB season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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