Whenever there’s a flurry of updates like earlier today, particularly on something so critically important and where the initial reporting is augmented by later reports, I like to take a step back and reset where things stand.
After months of “negotiating” by way of pissy letter writing and unrealistic proposals, Commissioner Rob Manfred seemed to galvanize everyone earlier this week, though perhaps not in the way he intended. By publicly declaring, five days after he said he was 100% certain there would be a season, that he was no longer certain there was a season because the owners didn’t want to risk a grievance, Manfred saw the baseball world explode in righteous anger about what the league was doing.
From there, Manfred reportedly requested to meet directly with union chief Tony Clark, face-to-face, so that they could talk, literally for the first time in this entire process.
Out of that meeting, we learned that the owners were submitting a new offer to the players, which, given the chronology, sure seems like a good sign that (1) the Manfred-Clark talks were fruitful, and (2) the duo had put together something in the range of acceptable.
Today, Manfred put out a statement confirming that there was at least a framework in place for a deal, though we know that there are still negotiations to take place:
“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix. We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents. I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today. Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”
Roughly speaking, per multiple reports, we can estimate that the framework includes full prorated pay for the players, expanded postseason, and no grievance by the players if the number of games is right.
The specific proposal sent by the league at this time was for 60 games, reportedly with Spring Training Part Two to begin on June 29, and the season beginning July 19. The players get full prorated pay, the owners get expanded postseason this and next year, and, again, the players won’t proceed with a grievance that the owners did not negotiate in good faith. I have yet to see reported what will happen with respect to postseason compensation for the players – historically, it is based on gate receipts, which won’t be a thing this year. So, previous offers in this back-and-forth have involved either a flat pool created for the players, or a portion of the total postseason revenues.
From here, most prognosticators seem to believe the players will come back with a request within this same framework, but for more games. Their last offer, which was also more or less within this framework, was for 89 games, and would see the regular season run deep into October. For reasons both financial and COVID-related, the owners have held firm at ending the regular season in September (and their position was enhanced this week by Dr. Fauci’s admonition that playing deep into October and later will likely mean more risk).
So, my guess is the players will come back at something like 81 games – a half of a season – in a schedule that runs through the first week of October (with some doubleheaders mixed in). People will scream and rail that clearly the sides are still too far apart and everything is a nightmare. But if the league is wise, they will resist the urge to spar publicly, and will instead simply come up from 60 games – indeed, the smart way to proceed is a bracket approach, where the league will agree to come up to, say, 65 games if the players agree to come down to 76 games. An easy give by both sides, and you just shrank your gap by nearly 50%.
Ultimately, it sounds like most pundits think things will wind up in the 66-game range, though given the strength on the players’ side right now, something closer to 70 wouldn’t surprise me. Whatever it winds up being, I just hope the sides can get there together. I won’t say “in peace” or anything like that, because there’s waaaay too much bad blood right now. But you’ve had your nightmare week. You’ve seen how public sentiment can turn so ugly so fast. It’s time now to get a deal done.
If the plan is to start Spring Training Part Two by June 29, then the sides have only a couple days to finalize things so that they give teams upwards of 10 days to make arrangements for their facilities to be ready, and give players time to travel to the training location (there’s a pandemic going on, you know).
My hopes are a little up. I can’t deny it, as stupid as that makes me. But nothing is actually completed until it’s completed, and there are still substantive items to work out here. More as it comes in.