I’ve basically run out of ways to introduce posts about the negotiations for a 2020 season. It’s the same old story time and time and time again, with each iteration having just enough of a new twist to make things super annoying. The last ten days or so have been particularly irritating, starting with Rob Manfred guaranteeing a season then players cutting off negotiations and telling the owners to implement a season the Manfred no longer guaranteeing a season then he and Tony Clark meeting face to face then reports that a deal was just about done then contradictory reports then a league offer of 60 games with prorated pay and an expanded postseason then controversy over whether or not that was agreed to — which, if you can’t agree on whether or not something was agreed to, it wasn’t agreed to — then the players counter offering for 70 games and everything else mostly in place from the owner’s deal.
Once that counter offer came through, there was at least some optimism that this was finally going to get done. The jubilation from Wednesday afternoon when original reports said a deal was close was short-lived, but these two offers were close enough that they had to just meet in the middle, right? That would be a logical thought if, and only if, you haven’t been following this negotiation through. The latest is that the owners are not planning a counter offer. They are telling the players either accept our 60-game proposal or we’ll implement a season on our own per the March 26 agreement.
A few quick points here. One, keep in mind that if the players do not accept this deal and the owners implement a season, there will be no expanded playoffs nor a universal DH. I’m assuming they would still be able to go through with the schedule alignment keeping teams within their own regions, but I haven’t seen clarification on that. Additionally, it is very possible the players would file a grievance while accepting the owners schedule. There is some (in my view, well-founded) paranoia among players that all of this over the last ten days or so has been a stall tactic by the league so they are able to implement the shorter season they want while being in less danger of a grievance on the basis of the March agreement that says they must make a good faith effort to schedule as many games as possible.
As for what the players are going to do, it looks like they are probably going to reject the 60-game offer and let the owners do what they gotta do. At least, that’s the reporting from Jon Heyman, and frankly given the way this has all gone to this point I’d be surprised by any other outcome. I’m also hesitant to say that would be the end of things, because it doesn’t seem like there is a real end of things.
Amid all of this, too, we got a stark reminder that all of this back and forth and alienating of fans could potentially have been for nothing given the pandemic that is still very much part of life in America. The Phillies suffered an outbreak at their spring training facility on Friday, the extent of which is still unknown, as just one of a few similar stories around sports. MLB shut down spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona for deep cleaning as a result.
COVID cases are trending in the wrong direction in many parts of the country, and a non-bubble situation like MLB is planning is ripe for outbreaks all around the league. It’s hard to see how they’ll be able to manage that. And before anyone goes to the old “they’re athletes they’ll be fine” point, please just stop. For one, there are a lot of underlying factors that can make this disease dangerous for people you would not expect. Two, coaches and umpires and many other people who are not professional athletes need to be around for a game to happen. Three, players have families they will be in contact with. And most importantly, we still aren’t really at all sure what the long-term effects of this are. The point being: They need to be careful, and if the Phillies situation is just a preview of what’s to come, I’m not sure how this season can get off the ground even if an agreement somehow happens.