If you were holding out hope that the players and owners would eventually be able to set aside their differences, well, bless your little heart. The two sides are further apart philosophically than they are financially, despite ownership’s asinine claims that their offers represent meaningful moves toward the middle in ongoing negotiations.
To wit, the owners’ most recent — and perhaps final — proposal represents a total of around $71 million more compensation for the players. That might seem like a pretty sizable number absent context, but it’s a pittance when placed in proper perspective. Like how it’s less than 5% more than the last offer or how it amounts to less than three games of prorated pay.
For the sake of comparison, the players reduced their ask from 114 games to 89, a difference of about $650 million in potential salary. Now that is what you call a good-faith step to the middle. The league and owners, however, don’t see it as such and have not taken kindly to the players turning up the volume on their public criticism of the negotiation process.
Of course, the owners have been making the battle public from the start, leaking information about their proposals so the media can hand out water buckets to folks who view players as overpaid prima donnas. Even national pundits like Karl Ravech who aren’t both-sidesing the matter are part of the owners’ scheme.
In case you can’t read the text in the images below, Nationals reliever and massive Star Wars fan Sean Doolittle posted side-by-side screenshots of Ravech’s tweet about the owners’ proposal with a prescient note from union lawyer Eugene Freedman. Freedman, who serves as counsel for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus on the topic of labor relations, called his shot when it came to the owners’ tactics.
“Great point that MLB stopped leaking for past 30 hours because it didn’t want to step on its own news cycle,” Freedman tweeted. “If the leaks start again tomorrow, it will prove that it is one side doing the harm to the bargaining process. Bargaining is done behind closed doors, not in the media.”
— Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) June 12, 2020
But as we learned from Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, it’s not just the league’s leaks that have the players on edge. A letter accompanying the latest proposal contained some serious snark from deputy commissioner Dan Halem, who took three pages to air the league’s grievances before actually getting to the “final counterproposal” for a 72-game season.
“I must have misinterpreted your June 6th letter,” Halem wrote. “I thought the letter reflected a willingness on the part of the Association to discuss in good faith the economics necessary for the Office of the Commissioner to waive its right under the March Agreement to resume the 2020 season only when there are, among other things, no restrictions on fan access. After reviewing the Association’s counterproposal, I stand corrected.”
The deputy commissioner went on to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the players should just be happy they were ever paid at all since the national emergency declaration on March 13 gave Rob Manfred the authority to suspend all contracts.
That’s a straight-up dick move, no two ways about it, and Halem makes it clear that the league has no intention of engaging in the same good-faith talks it accuses the union of avoiding. Those who have remained on the owners’ side throughout this process probably won’t be swayed now, but Halem’s sentiments and some additional notes from Freedman should at least have them wondering why they’re backing the billionaires.
“Mr. Halem’s self-serving letter is filled with inaccuracies and incomplete facts,” an MLBPA spokesman replied. “We will respond to that and the league’s latest proposal in short order. It should not be forgotten however that even MLB admits that our March Agreement does not require players to agree to further pay cuts.
“Indeed, as Mr. Halem agreed in a May 18 letter to Tony Clark: ‘The Association is free to take the position that players are unwilling to accept further reductions.’ Pat Houlihan, MLB legal counsel, similarly acknowledged in his May 22 letter to the Players Association. ‘We agree with the Association that, under the Agreement, players are not required to accept less than their full prorated salary.’’
Boy, that sure looks like a smoking gun the league is now looking for a way to ditch. If you think it sounds foolish for them to deny what appears to be quite obvious, consider that each of their proposals has amounted to almost identical figures in terms of player compensation. Making fun of that fact resulted in the biggest hit Daniel Descalso has collected as a member of the Cubs.
MLB: Do you want a half dozen donuts?
MLB: Oh, So you want 6?
MLBPA: That’s the same thing
MLB: Our mistake. How about 2 sets of 3?
MLBPA: Never mind.
MLB: Wait wait, I can give you 3 sets of 2. How’s that?
— Daniel Descalso (@DanielDescalso) June 13, 2020
Contrary to the ominous wording of Halem’s letter, this latest offer isn’t necessarily the last the owners will concoct. It is, however, likely to be the last for a season of as many as 72 games. That’s why they gave the players until Sunday to respond, though it doesn’t sound as if they’ll need that long.
It expired as soon as they hit send. https://t.co/vK5UrRANrb
— Trevor Williams (@MeLlamoTrevor) June 12, 2020
It’s possible there’ll be one more effort to rework the numbers again so that the owners are still getting as many regular-season games as possible while still only paying for 50-some, though time is running thin. As Brad Ziegler tweeted, it’s going to come down to how far owners are willing to stretch in terms of paying 100% of prorated salaries.
At this point, it doesn’t matter. Players will get 100% of their prorated share. The Q is, will there be 48 or 70 games? Owners whiffing on a big opportunity to grow the game because of short-sighted $ concerns. But that’s who they are and always have been.
— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) June 13, 2020
Given that we’re already past the 7th inning in the negotiation window, I’d say that any stretching is already long gone. Freedman seems to agree, as this tweet from a very thorough thread Friday night indicates.
It’s not MLB’s admission that makes me pessimistic. It’s that MLBPA has finally decided to leak. That means that the parties are no longer speaking directly. They are trying to hurt each other publicly. MLB has been doing that from the beginning.
— (((EugeneFreedman))) (@EugeneFreedman) June 13, 2020
If you’re on Twitter, I highly recommend following the entire thread to get the full context for Freedman’s comments. If, however, you want to dive right into the heart of why we’ve seen these talks devolve in spite of what seems to be a common understanding of the March 26 agreement to pay prorated salaries, check out the screencap below.
Is it really possible that all this bluster from the owners and the league is the result of knowing they messed up and then doing everything they can to simply deny it and lie their way back to a better position? Since nothing they’ve done to this point indicates otherwise, I’m going to have to answer in the affirmative. And that, my friends, is why the players are pissed.
If MLB really wanted to end this whole thing, they’d produce the full memo of understanding (MOU) and provide more information on their financials. Until that happens, it has to be assumed that they’re hiding something. I remain optimistic for a season of some sort, though the acrimony involved in getting it started will probably result in a protracted battle over the next CBA that could very well lead to another work stoppage.