The coming week is going to be a big one for the potential return of baseball in 2020. First and foremost everyone involved needs to figure out all of the answers to pertinent questions such as where will teams play and how will everyone be kept safe and what happens if someone tests positive and how will they get their hands on the necessary number of tests for all teams without taking it from local municipalities. Before they can even think about some specifics with themselves, those questions need to be answered. That said, they also have to come to an agreement with the Players’ Union on a few issues before a season can happen, and this is where things get dicey.
Last week, it was reported that MLB was going to be proposing something to players within a week. On Sunday, we learned that they are getting closer and part of their proposal will include players taking a pay cut to go with lost revenue that comes with losing gate fees and other revenue sources associated with fans in attendance. Well, that likely won’t go very well, and Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports reported on Sunday that “there will be a war” if the owners do go through with that proposal.
There is absolutely no doubt the players would/will be absolutely right to hold the line here, and that a failure to do so would be a failure of their leadership. Back in late March, on the same day the regular season was supposed to start, the players and league agreed on a deal for a 2020 season that, among other things, resulted in the abomination that is this year’s five-round draft as well as a payment agreement that stated players would get a $170 million advance and if games were played they would be paid on a pro rated basis. That was an official agreement that the league apparently wants to go back on now, and no reports about this upcoming proposal including concessions made on the part of the owners for reneging on their original deal. For what it’s worth, Calcaterra does mention a provision in said deal about renegotiating regarding fans, but the player’s interpretation of that was with regards to playing without fans or not, not about any financial results.
There are a lot of reasons for the players to not go along with this, which Calcaterra touches on in the linked post. First and foremost among them in my mind, at least beyond the fact that, again, they already made an agreement that directly resulted in the five-round draft that the league isn’t going to change, is that the players, along with coaches and other team staff, are the ones putting themselves at physical risk here. It’s true that this virus is less harmful to younger, healthy people, a category that most baseball players fall into, but A) healthy people can still get very sick and/or die from this, B) there are players with conditions that put them in an at-risk category, C) they are still in contact with coaches and bus drivers and training staff and a whole host of other people in the organization who could be at risk, and D) they have loved ones who could be at risk. To take on that plus a pay cut for nothing in return would be asinine.
That brings us to the next point here, which comes back to the revenue streams I mentioned in the post linked above regarding the draft. The players would absolutely need to see the books of teams for proof that there would be substantial losses from a lack of attendance. As I mentioned, teams are getting away from attendance-based revenues and have been for a few years now, and as Calcaterra mentions the TV revenues, particularly in the postseason, could be higher than ever in any potential 2020 season. The league has never been willing to open up the books, but there’s no reason for the players to take them at their word on this issue.
And, even if we were to grant some sort of major losses for the league this year, that’s still not a good reason for the players to go along with this. I’m trying to imagine the reaction from the general public if the players were to ask for salary raises across the board in years in which the league’s revenue skyrockets. That doesn’t happen because that’s not how any of this works. To ask for that to happen the first time profits may go sideways is ludicrous. When anyone asks what it is owners do to deserve the massive amounts of money they make in their position, the answer is always something regarding the financial risk they take on. Fair enough. This is the other side of that risk. This is supposedly why they make the big bucks. If they get to be bailed out, then where is that risk?
I want baseball back as much as anybody, and there are issues beyond the financial — read: public safety — that are the primary concern for why I don’t want it rushed back. That said, this financial side of things and specifically player salaries is going to be the running topic of what will be a brutal week for baseball fans. Given what we know about the respective PR machines at play here, there will be plenty of sympathy for owners on this. Don’t get it twisted though: The players are 100 percent right to “go to war” or however you want to phrase it against the upcoming ludicrous proposal from league management, and if that leads to the season not happening, blame the side that agreed to a deal, took the benefits then tried to take even more six weeks later.