On Monday, Major League Baseball made a new proposal for a pandemic-shortened season, but it appears it is dead on arrival with the players' union. The proposal included 76 games, but with a flat-rate pay cut for players across the board to 50 percent that would increase to 75 percent with the playoffs. Players have rejected any proposal that includes additional pay cuts and the first reactions via social media would seem to indicate that stance has not changed.
The underlying issue continues to be that teams want to secure additional cuts to player salaries to offset losses from having to put on games with no fans. The players feel they have already negotiated this back in March when they agreed to accept playing for a pro-rated amount based on the number of games played. For them, that part of the negotiation is settled.
For MLB, the risk is too great. Most of baseball's money comes from game-day sales and playoff TV deals. Local television contracts — for most teams — don't provide the kind of revenue that would make up for turnstiles and all playoff television revenue is at risk of being lost if the coronavirus were to surge and cause the cancellation of postseason games.
This is, of course, all being managed under the looming specter of new collective bargaining negotiations, which will happen when the current agreement expires after the 2021 season. Players are less likely to give up salary and agree to things like revenue sharing for fear owners will simply want to keep that in place going forward. Owners don't want to overspend with no guarantee they can recoup some if not all of those costs.
And round and round we go.
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With the clock ticking, it is becoming more and more likely the league will eventually institute a 48- or 50-game season with full player salaries. But there is no guarantee players will accept that as an option and may instead prefer to simply walk out until next season to avoid any kind of illegitimate season with minimal payroll.
Owners have said they want an expanded playoff that would include more than the standard ten teams, perhaps as many as 22, that would greatly expand the number of games and the possibility of additional pay for players. But all of that has yet to be agreed upon given this major sticking point of salary.
And while no one wants to entertain the idea of a year without baseball — in this of all years — as many have pointed out, the World Series champion Washington Nationals had only won 19 games through their first 50 in 2019. A short season even with an expanded playoff is unlikely to produce a title winner with any real legitimacy among most fans.
Unless the owners can agree to spend more than they think they will make and assume much of the risk for the playoffs, and the players are willing to play far fewer games than they want, it won't matter if fans don't like the format or consider a crowned champion legitimate. Because we wouldn't have games in the first place.