Major League Baseball made an updated proposal for the 2020 MLB season to its players' union on Monday, moving to have a 76-game season with players getting 75% of their prorated salaries that includes eliminating draft-pick compensation for free agents for a year, a $200 million postseason pool for the players and a postseason that ends no later than Oct. 31.
How much likelier does today's plan make it that there will be an agreement to play baseball this summer? Is a 50-game season better than a 76-game campaign? What are the biggest sticking points of this latest proposal? We asked ESPN.com MLB reporters Jesse Rogers, Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield to break it all down.
How likely are the players to accept the 76-game proposal with prorated salary proposed Monday?
Rogers: Not likely, especially with the playoff caveat that would lower the amount if no postseason is played. The no draft-pick compensation is a nice carrot, but that's all it is. Bottom line: The players aren't making that much more than from the 50-game possibility that exists.
Schoenfield: This doesn't really bring the sides any closer together. Here, Jeff Passan spells it out:
THREAD: Here's how to understand MLB's current offer to the players as compared to its last offer and the possibility of a 48-game season.
- Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 8, 2020
Since this offer is less in guaranteed money, it seems unlikely to appease the players, but it's getting close to crunch time here, and a potential $1.43 billion in salary is still $1.43 billion.
Doolittle: They won't accept it in this form, but they have to be honest (within the union, not with us) about why they won't accept it. This does appear to me to be a very small step toward the players, so hopefully it is viewed as just another proposal, one that merits a response, and not another talking point for more empty media statements and social media blathering.
Bottom line, how much more likely does Monday's proposal make a 2020 MLB season?
Doolittle: I wouldn't want to put a number on it, but in general, at least it's a sign that the owners are still negotiating rather than becoming entrenched in the idea of implementing a mini-season. But the miasmic aspect of the talks could make this little sprout of an olive branch pretty much meaningless.
Schoenfield: I think Brad makes a good point. And especially as we start getting more details on NBA and NHL seasons starting back up and golf tournaments starting up and so on, that puts more pressure on the owners and the union to shake hands on something. Baseball doesn't want to be the one sport where it's bickering over money instead of resuming competition. There is still a chance to have baseball in July, and that would be a big plus for the sport.
What are the biggest potential sticking points from Monday's proposal?
Rogers: For one, the playoff caveat that says players would only get 50% of their prorated salary if the postseason is canceled. It's going to be hard enough to persuade them to take 75% if the postseason is played. From the start, players haven't wavered from the idea they believe they agreed to a full, pay-per-game proration of their 2020 salary.
Doolittle: Yeah, I agree with Jesse -- the pro rata drop from 75% to 50% is severe, even if you buy into the revenue portrait that notion paints, which is that so much of the remaining revenue potential from the season is dependent upon starting a postseason. If the 75% were guaranteed, my very quick scribbling suggests that players would be getting roughly 35% of their original salaries for a 76-game slate. The 50-game proposal at full pro rata would have been around 31%.
This much is clear: If the playoffs were canceled, and the pro rata distribution dropped to 50%, then the payout to players ends up at pretty much what the 50-game proposal would have paid. So why would the players agree to the risk of playing the extra 26 games?
Under this proposal, how much of their total salary would a player make this season?
Doolittle: Based on a rate of 75% of full pro rata over 76 games, I've got players earning 35.2% of their original contract. The 50-game lowball offer from the players -- at full pro rata -- would have been about 30.9%. While we're at it: A 114-game season at full pro rata would have been 70.4%. I'm no expert in negotiation, but at this stage, it doesn't seem like the range of disagreement should be this large. (Sarcasm intended.)
Rogers: Basically, if the playoffs are completed, they would make 35% of their original salary.
When would a 76-game season need to start to be finished by the end of September?
Rogers: The first week of July. By the 10th at the latest. There's some flexibility, as spring training can be shortened if need be. The shorter the spring training, the larger the rosters to start the season will be.
Schoenfield: Let's see, counting back from the current regular-season schedule, which ends Sept. 27, a team plays about 75 games in July, August and September. So, yes, first week of July, unless you push the schedule back into the first week of October or play some doubleheaders along the way. (Seven-inning doubleheaders were a possibility in some of the early ideas.) Mid-July at the absolute latest, unless you want to play a December World Series at warm-weather neutral sites.
Doolittle: If you're going by the middle of July, you're fine if you add some doubleheaders, and you could push it back even a little more than that if you want to cut out most off days. But Dave and Jesse are right -- you want to be going by July 7-10 or so to keep the slate from becoming too dense.
Is the possibility of a shorter 48- or 50-game season being the final outcome still in play?
Rogers: Absolutely. With the MLBPA likely to say no to this latest proposal by owners, we are still marching in that direction.
Doolittle: Right now, I feel like this is the most likely outcome. And I am not happy about it.
Schoenfield: Fifty games is better than zero, but 76 is ... well, 52% better than 50, so I'd be 52% happier with 76 games.
Would the champion of a shortened season be looked at differently? And would 50 games vs. 76 make a difference?
Rogers: Of course. Injuries are likely to be a big storyline in either case, but especially if they play only 50 games. A hammy problem or sore shoulder could effectively shut down a player. Remember, they still get paid their salary even if they're on the injured list the entire shortened season. At least 76 games would give some incentive to return. Already, players have said they won't hold it against anyone who feels like they're risking too much for a short season.
Schoenfield: Sure, 76 games is a little more legitimate than 50. But it all depends on the playoff structure. If you're just going to put 22 or 24 teams or whatever into the playoffs, it doesn't really matter much if 50 games or 76 decides the playoff teams. If you stick with the current 10-team playoff format, you definitely want to play as many regular-season games as possible. Would the champion of a short season be looked at differently? Hmm, I guess that's a question for Mariners fans or Indians fans or Padres fans. I don't think they would care.
Doolittle: Every additional game matters. But Dave's point is cogent. If you blow up the playoff bracket into a grotesque form, then we're not talking about big league baseball. They can do it that way and we'd probably watch. But just don't call the last round the World Series.
How much longer could negotiations take?
Rogers: The longer they go, the fewer games can be played. Having said that, they still have plenty of time to get a shortened season in. Expect at most four weeks for Spring Training 2.0, which means to play 50 games, they could conceivably negotiate until July 1. The league will avoid playing regular-season games in October or beyond -- partly because of a possible second wave of the coronavirus but also because its postseason TV schedule is already set. With every other major sport playing at that time of year, it won't be easy to move things past what's already been scheduled.
Doolittle: Years. I'm not kidding. It's a dystopian scenario, and I'd peg the odds of it happening at less than 0.5%. But let's say the owners try to unilaterally impose a 50-game schedule with a standard postseason bracket. The players might just say, "Uh, no. Solidarity, baby." Then let's say the pandemic swells up again to the point that attendance revenue in 2021 is threatened. Then we're back to square one, only with the rancor over this process festering like a block of old cheese. So they can't agree on anything to stage the 2021 season, either. Careers end. Teams fold. The collective bargaining agreement ends, and all of us turn our attention to the newly independent minor leagues. This is really how my mind works. ... But I think and hope they'll wrap this up this week.
Schoenfield: Well, if that happens, at least we'd have more spare time to read or reread "1984," "The Handmaid's Tale," "The Road," "Never Let Me Go, "Lord of the Flies" and "Fahrenheit 451."
What recourse do players have if they don't want to play?
Rogers: They could essentially strike and not show up for spring training or go ahead with that grievance. Or pocket the anger and use it at another time. Perhaps when the playoffs are supposed to begin. That would be an extreme measure. Most likely, if they play the 50, the anger will simply carry over to the next negotiation.
Doolittle: If the owners try to impose a schedule and the players don't play it, then that's a strike. There would probably be some sort of grievance filed under the general umbrella of failing to negotiate in good faith.
Would the playoffs look the same as they would have for a normal MLB season?
Rogers: No, but the players would have to agree to additional teams making the postseason. Either way, with possible realignment of divisions, the postseason won't look like anything we've seen before. The Cleveland Indians could play the Cincinnati Reds in the first round, depending on the setup.
Doolittle: No, and I'm not sure they should. For one thing, if we have a geographically based schedule, it doesn't make any sense to maintain the traditional league structures. What would even be the point of having one-third or more of your schedule be based on intraleague play if those games are not between teams competing for the same thing? Alas, competitive considerations seem pretty far down the list on the to-do lists of both sides.
What are some other options for the postseason to add games and revenue?
Rogers: It's simple: A hugely expanded postseason, which could include 14 to 22 teams, would add revenue and change the dynamic of the whole sport. The more teams that make the playoffs will water down the regular season but also allow arms to build proper strength to October. In the end, an underdog no one saw coming could end up in whatever version of the World Series we get this year. An expanded postseason, with anything from one-game wild-card affairs to a best-of-three series, will provide ample opportunities for "upsets."
Schoenfield: Let's try something different: World Cup-style pools or College World Series-like double-elimination brackets to eliminate some teams early on (and, yes, there could be upsets in here, just like at the World Cup). Somehow then culminating in the traditional best-of-seven World Series.
Doolittle: Cinderella is a March Madness thing. If it happens in baseball, it detracts, not enhances, the integrity of the season. I would keep the number of teams limited and would be flexible on the number of teams that make the playoffs. What we're looking for is true separation ... if you're around .500 and a bunch of teams are clustered around that level, then stage a play-in tournament of short or even one-game series, just among those teams. The teams that have gained real separation during the bastardized season would not be exposed to this. But once you get into the real postseason tournament, make those series best-of-nine. More games. More validity to the winner of those series. And a final round that might not be completely undeserving of being called the World Series.