Rob Manfred is certain that Major League Baseball will take place this summer, but he is hopeful that it will come as the result of a negotiated agreement with the MLB Players Association, a circumstance that feels unlikely in the midst of contentious, seemingly unproductive negotiations over the past few weeks.
Manfred, in his sixth year as MLB commissioner, said in an interview with ESPN broadcaster Karl Ravech on Wednesday that the league will soon provide a "responsive proposal" to the latest offer from the MLBPA, which consisted of an 89-game season and full prorated salaries, and that he's "100 percent" sure there will be a season.
Manfred, speaking a little less than an hour before the start of a significantly shorter MLB draft, said the league's proposal will be "another significant move in the players' direction in terms of the salary issue that has kept us apart.
"We're hopeful that it will produce reciprocal movement from the players' association, that we'll see a number other than 100% on salary, and some recognition that 89 games, given where we are in the calendar and the course of the pandemic, is not realistic," he added.
Players remain firm in their belief that they are owed their full prorated salaries based on an agreement made by both sides in March, while owners say the reality of hosting games with no fans means significant enough losses to warrant more financial concessions from players. Neither side has expressed a willingness to shift from their positions.
If the sides can't reach an agreement, Manfred has the autonomy to implement a shorter season -- it would reportedly consist of 48 games -- as long as players receive full prorated salaries. If that ends up being the case, sources have said, the MLBPA would likely not agree to an expanded postseason and might even file a grievance. The concern, then, would center on how that animosity might spill into negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement, with the current one set to expire after the 2021 season.
"I would prefer to negotiate a new agreement with the MLBPA that gets us more games and resolves the issues that have separated us amicably," Manfred said. "But at the end of the day, we negotiated for the right in March to start the season on a number of games that we select in these particular circumstances. And if we have to, we'll exercise that right."
Manfred doesn't want the regular season to extend beyond September in order to guard against a potential second wave of the coronavirus and ensure that the postseason -- a crucial revenue generator because of television money -- is played.
The league's initial proposal called for an 82-game season and a system of tiered salary cuts that would have had its greatest impact on baseball's most famous, premier players. The union countered with a 114-game, full pro rata proposal that was dismissed by the owners. When the league on Monday submitted a proposal for a 76-game season and 75% prorated salaries, the players countered with an 89-game, full pro rata proposal on Tuesday, which also included an expanded postseason for the next two years and a regular season that would end Oct. 11.
Manfred told Ravech that baseball's revenues "are going to be down over 70%" in 2020. A potential deal might ultimately come down to whether the sides can find common ground between 89 and 48 games with full prorated salaries. Manfred said he would be "disappointed" if he had to utilize his power to implement a season that would be less than a third of the typical length.
"But you know what? I think at the end of the day the most important thing ... is that we play Major League Baseball in 2020," Manfred said. "And I can tell you unequivocally we are gonna play Major League Baseball this year."