Five days ago, before the start of the MLB Draft, Rob Manfred was on ESPN talking to Sportscenter. In that interview, when asked about the state of negotiations for the 2020 season, the commissioner indicated that he was 100% certain certain there would be some sort of a 2020 season. Then, a few days later over the weekend, the players decided to stop negotiations and told the league to just implement whatever season they wanted per the March 26 agreement that gave the league that power. The players indicated that they would be ready whenever they were told to be.
Well, fast-forward to today, Manfred was back on ESPN and he was signing a different tune. The commissioner told Mike Greenburg on Monday that he was no longer 100% confident there would be any sort of a season at all. Quite the change!
I’m not even sure where to even star there because this is all patently ridiculous. The goal of the owners during this entire saga in which the players have been standing pat on their feeling that they are entitled for prorated salaries for however long the season is has been to make the players look back. That has been the clear agenda behind every leak, to make the players look unreasonable. They knew all of the offers they have made, which had been essentially the same offer over and over again just in different wrapping paper, would be rejected, and they have been playing out the clock daring the players to stick to their guns or the league would impose a 48-game season. The players called the leagues’ bluff on Saturday, and now the owners are in panic mode.
The most interesting part of this has been the report that owners are demanding players sign away their right for legal recourse agains the league or else there would be no season. This is, of course, a nonstarter for the players. The most basic part of any CBA is the ability for either side to seek a third party arbitrator if they feel the terms of the agreement have been broken.
There’s been some speculation that this is about keeping players from suing the league if they become infected with COVID, but I think the more likely worry from the league is a grievance that absolutely would be filed by the league if a 48-game season was imposed any time soon. As part of the aforementioned March 26 agreement, the part that says the league can make a schedule also says there needs to be a good faith attempt to play as many games as possible. Considering the league just offered a deal to the players for 72 games, they certainly couldn’t argue they can only fit 48 games in this season. They know they would lose this agreement, so the most likely scenario is that they are just trying to stall as much as possible for the next couple of weeks until they can impose this season without losing the grievance.
There’s really no way you can defend the side of ownership here, and it seems like public opinion is finally swaying that way, which is not something I thought I would ever see. It’s honestly hard to come up with any sort of devil’s advocate defense of them here. Rather, it seems they have finally lost a negotiation against the union in the first time for what seems like forever, and rather than taking their medicine they are throwing a tantrum. I’m also intrigued by Craig Calcaterra’s theory that there are a few hardline owners who will not stand for the March agreement and Manfred is stuck holding firm to what he knows is a losing position. Either way, it sucks as a fan of baseball and one of many who has income dependent on the league existing.
I still think there is going to be baseball this year, but my confidence is surely at the lowest it’s been in a very, very long time. Oh, and keep in mind amid all of this, just yesterday the league agreed to a one billion dollar agreement with Turner Sports that is for one (1!) playoff series. Just in case you were wondering if the league could be any more tone deaf during all of this.
Anyway, Manfred is apparently going back on ESPN tonight for a special about the return of sports. Should be fun!
The players have responded.