Health, fair compensation on players' minds, says MLBPA board members

If MLB players are going to put their health at risk if/when the season gets underway, they want to be paid their full, prorated salaries, according to several players who hold key leadership positions in the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Players say health is first and foremost on their minds, with fair compensation behind it. They believe the risk will be inherent due to the ongoing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It goes back to not having fans in the stands," MLBPA executive board member and New York Yankees catcher Chris Iannetta said in a phone interview with ESPN. "If there's no fans in the stands, there is an intrinsic risk that players are going to undertake. There is an intrinsic risk that support staff and coaches are going to undertake, and we should get fairly compensated for taking that risk for the betterment of the game and the betterment of the owners who stand to make a huge profit off the game."

It's one of several talking points players are ready to make when the league finally presents its proposal (or proposals) to start the season, which could come as soon as Tuesday, according to multiple sources. Although the conversation over compensation is tied to the health risks, it's also a separate topic in of itself.

"I don't think anything can be done until that [safety] can be guaranteed and we feel comfortable with it," executive board member and St. Louis Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller told ESPN. "We want to put a good product on the field, but that's totally secondary to the health of the players. We are generally younger and healthier, but that doesn't mean our staff is, that doesn't mean the umpires are going to be in the clear.

"It's not hard to get one degree of separation away from players who have kids who may have conditions, or other family members that live with them. I'm confident before anything happens, we'll sort through all those issues."

Players held an executive board member conference call on Friday in anticipation of earnest discussions with the league next week. They're hoping to get answers to their health questions, and are also ready to address the financial considerations.

"We understand that this year isn't going to be as financially rewarding for the ownership groups [but] there is higher risk this season," Miller said. "If it's not safe to bring fans into games, you're still asking us to play, there's certainly a risk there. ... Travel is limited to essential, and we're traveling, that means there is risk involved."

Players also believe that in a non-salary-capped system, they shouldn't be beholden to league profits -- or losses. The NBA and NHL, for example, get a percentage of the revenue pie, so when revenues do go up, the players get more. And less when revenues go down.

"The way our sport works is we are not tied to revenue in any way," Miller said. "If the owners hit a home run and make more money, we don't go back and ask for more on our end. Ultimately this isn't about money. We need to find a way to safely get our players on the field in a safe manner and control that. I would hope this [finances] doesn't turn into anything regarding that stuff."

Besides health risks and the financial setup of the league, other talking points for the players, sources told ESPN, include the fact that they believe owners will see profits from television revenues -- even without fans -- while still being able to pay full prorated salaries. One source indicated sharing television revenue with players will be part of the proposal from the commissioner's office. That would give both sides the incentive to increase the amount of playoff teams for 2020, as postseason revenue from televised games is a windfall for baseball.

Although it may end up being a contentious point between the sides, discussions about compensation were dwarfed by the health questions.

"We'll explore a lot of options, but I think there will be some things we're going to say no to," Iannetta said. "Just based on government regulations, the chances of having fans in the stands is going to be next to zero. With that in mind, there is some inherent risk to this, and we'll weed through the proposal and I'm sure we'll agree on some things and some things we won't because it's implying too much risk for everyone."

Miller added: "There's always risks in life, but this seems like something that is very front and center. There's still a lot of unknowns. We need answers. We can't ask guys to go out and put their lives at risk. We all want to play. Trust me."

So far, players have been reacting to what they see reported in the news regarding scenarios for a return to play. They're looking forward to something definitive from the league instead of the media.

"As soon as something hits the news, the text messages go and the phone call happens ... yet MLB hasn't sent us any form of presentation or proposal," Miller said. "That's tough. It puts us in a weird situation."

And each time there's been a new plan made public, there's a new set of reactions.

"When the Arizona plan first came out, we had players reach out right away and say, 'This is a situation where I may not be able to leave my family and kids,'" Miller said. "That may not be the majority of players, but that will be some, and we'd have to sort through that."

Players aren't ruling anything out, not at least until they have something on paper to look at. They made it clear they want to play and clearly understand it'll be a season like no other.

"Everybody is up for anything that makes sense, [though] I don't think we want to go back to Southern League bus trips," Miller said with a half-chuckle. "For safety there are compromises players will make, no doubt. If riding by bus is better than riding by plane, we'll listen. ... I could see instead of taking an hour flight, we'd take a 2-3 [hour] bus trip. Why not? I would listen to it."