Major League Baseball owners approved a proposal that commissioner Rob Manfred plans to present to players Tuesday on a return-to-play scenario that aims to have baseball back in home stadiums by early July, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.
The meeting between MLB and the MLB Players Association on Tuesday will set the stage for what both parties expect to be a contentious negotiation. Although MLB could benefit long-term from being the first American team sport to return amid the coronavirus pandemic, the logistics of starting the season remain convoluted and require player support.
Money is at the heart of the return, sources said. Owners, fearful of deep financial losses with fan-free stadiums, agreed in a conference call Monday afternoon to a plan that includes a 50-50 revenue split with the players, sources told ESPN.
Because MLB is the lone uncapped team sport in the United States, never has a straight revenue split been part of the game's finances. The MLBPA is almost certain to reject that element of the proposal and counter that a March agreement between the parties guaranteed players a prorated portion of their salaries, depending on the number of games played.
The ability to strike a financial deal could mean the difference between a baseball season and one that is canceled.
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told The Athletic that "a system that restricts player pay based on revenues is a salary cap -- period."
"This is not the first salary-cap proposal our union has received. It probably won't be the last," Clark said. "... That the league is trying to take advantage of a global health crisis to get what they've failed to achieve in the past -- and to anonymously negotiate through the media for the last several days -- suggests they know exactly how this will be received."
Concerns about the league's handling of testing and ensuring as safe a working environment as possible will be an issue broached by players on Tuesday and in the coming days, sources told ESPN. Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle took to social media Monday to set that table. As the sides are negotiating, the league will continue to seek approval from governmental entities and support from the medical community for a potential return.
Bear with me, but it feels like we've zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season. Here are some things I'll be looking for in the proposal...— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) May 11, 2020
It echoes what MLBPA executive board member and Yankees catcher Chris Iannetta told ESPN last week, when he said that "there is an intrinsic risk that players are going to undertake" if there are fan-less games, and because of that, players "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."
Among the other vital points included in the proposal:
An expansion of playoff teams from 10 to 14
An 82-game season
The use of home stadiums in areas that have local and state government approval
A so-called spring training 2.0 that begins in June, with a season set for early July
A universal designated hitter
Geographical schedules, in which teams play only in-division opponents and interleague opponents in a similar area (i.e., American League Central teams play AL Central and National League Central teams)
A 30-man roster with a taxi squad that would have upward of 50 players available
The playoff expansion, which had been floated before the coronavirus pandemic hit, would increase revenue as it shrivels in other areas. Teams estimate that upward of 40% of revenue comes from ticket sales and other gate-related income.
The season could start Fourth of July weekend, with games around the country in home stadiums. The intra-division-heavy schedule would be to limit travel, with teams possibly traveling by bus to nearby cities.
If any ballpark is not available because state or local officials have not approved the resumption of play, Manfred has told owners that he is prepared to move that team to another city to play home games, a team owner and a team president told ESPN. According to multiple sources, Manfred has been calling governors around the country to lobby for baseball's return. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan both told ESPN that they spoke to Manfred but declined to characterize their conversations.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a media conference Monday that he had spoken to the commissioner as well. "He said, 'We won't do anything that's not consistent with state guidelines,'" Newsom said. "We certainly look forward to Major League Baseball and all sports resuming, but again, the question is when. And that will be determined on the basis of public health and public safety and the spread of this virus."
Spring training likely would not include any games, and teams could get ready for the season at their home stadiums. The 50 players available would be a mixture of major leaguers and top minor league players, with the minor league season in jeopardy.
ESPN's T.J. Quinn and Jesse Rogers contributed to this report.