By RONALD BLUM
NEW YORK (AP) — An email from baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to union head Tony Clark led to a balk in the drawn-out talks to start the pandemic-delayed season, which now won’t begin by July 19.
The executive committee of the players’ association was set to vote and reject Major League Baseball’s latest offer for a 60-game season on Sunday.
“I really believe we are fighting over an impossibility on games,” Manfred said in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. “The earliest we will be ready for players to report is a week from Monday, given the need to relocate teams from Florida. That leaves 66 days to play 60 games. Realistically, that is the outside of the envelope now.”
Players want 70 games and $275 million more than teams are offering. They are worried that if a resurgence of the new coronavirus causes the 2020 season to be cut short, the deal being negotiated would lock in innovations for 2021 and lessen the union’s bargaining power.
“Tony, am writing to reiterate what I told you on the phone a few minutes ago,” Manfred wrote. “Given the Covid developments, I understand that the players are concerned that the 2020 season will be truncated beyond the agreed upon number of games (for example, we agree to play 60 and can only play 40). If that were to happen, I would be prepared to eliminate the 2021 components of the deal. That would mean that we would not get the expanded playoffs in 2021 and the DH rule would revert to the current rule (DH in AL, no DH in NL).”
Players didn’t take a vote and will consider their next move Monday.
The 2020 only items in the deal include starting extra innings with runner on second and a discussion of whether to allow tie games after a specified total of innings plus player re-entry in extra innings.
Some players would prefer there not be a deal and that Manfred unilaterally order the schedule. Because players insisted on full prorated pay, he threatened a schedule of about 50 games. MLB agreed to prorated pay when Manfred met with Clark last week.
The proposed deal would give Manfred the right to suspended or cancel play if “restrictions on travel throughout the United States are imposed” or if he determines after consulting medical experts and the union that there has been a change in circumstances posing “an unreasonable health and safety risk to players or staff to stage those games, even without fans in attendance.”
MLB’s proposal for 60 games includes $1.48 billion in salary plus a $25 million postseason players’ pool, while the union’s plan includes $1.73 billion in salary and a $50 million pool.
Absent an agreement, the union would file a grievance claiming MLB violated the provision in the March 26 agreement recognizing “that each of the parties shall work in good faith to as soon as is practicable commence, play, and complete the fullest 2020 championship season and post-season that is economically feasible,” subject to several provisions.
Those provisions say that without MLB’s consent, the season shall not start until there are no legal restrictions on playing in front of fans at the 30 regular-season ballparks, no relevant travel restrictions and no health or safety risk to players, staff or spectators to playing in the 30 regular ballparks. The agreement also says the sides “will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.”
MLB had proposed having the season run from July 19 or 20 through Sept. 27, the shortest since the 1870s, while the union agreed to the start date and said it should end Sept. 30, or earlier using doubleheaders. Both sides proposed pitchers and catchers report June 26, followed by position players two days later, but that schedule has come and gone, like the proposed Fourth of July start.
A rise in positive tests last week in Florida caused MLB to close all 30 training camps for deep cleaning and disinfecting. The Philadelphia Phillies announced Friday that five players had tested positive for COVID-19 and person familiar with the process, speaking on condition of anonymity, 40 players and team employees had tested positive as of noon EDT Sunday. MLB sent 200 COVID-19 tests to each team to be used over the weekend, the person said.
Twenty-nine of the 30 teams now intend to hold training at their regular season stadiums rather than spring training sites. Toronto may be an exception due to Canadian federal and Ontario provincial restrictions.
Manfred’s email referred to another issue: termination pay for players released prior to opening day.
“I think I have previously agreed to give you full termination pay for players who were salary arbitration eligible in 2019, are on non guaranteed contracts and are terminated in spring training,” Manfred wrote. “Those players would get the numbers of days of termination pay equal to the number of games we agree to play, subject to the repayment of salary advances.”