The KC Royals may be closer to playing in 2020. Friday’s proposal from the clubs to the players may end the labor talks and force an imposed season.
As another Friday night slipped into Saturday morning, there were only replays of games gone by to provide needed baseball fixes to fans of the KC Royals and other major league clubs. The game’s labor stalemate remained sadly intact, nudged only by another counteroffer from the clubs to the union.
In its most important aspect–player compensation–this proposal looks like old wine in a new bottle. It may look different, but it won’t pass the players’ taste test.
The financial centerpiece of the clubs’ new offer is its fundamental flaw. Among other reported elements of the proposal, it calls for the players to play 72 games at 70% of their full 2020 contract rate. The clubs last offered 76 games at 75 percent, their response to the players’ proposal to play 89 games for full pro-rata.
(The clubs also offered extra cash-generating expanded playoffs and an enhanced postseason compensation pool if a postseason is played, but the present COVID-19 uncertainties make banking on a full postseason risky).
The players will view this new offer as nothing new and nothing better than they’ll get if Commissioner Rob Manfred does what he’s expected to do absent an agreement–impose a 48-game schedule at full pro-rata pay. Even application of my questionable math skills suggests 72 games at 70 percent pro-rata is pretty much the same as 48 at full pro-rata, a conclusion also reached by prominent union member and Cincinnati pitcher Trevor Bauer:
The clubs’ offer smacks more of a thinly disguised PR ploy than a serious attempt to forge a deal or close the gap between the parties. KC Royals fans want to see as many games as possible–throwing 72 on the public table looks at first blush almost like a half-season starting in July. But it ignores the issue the players care about most–being paid fairly to play as many games as possible.
And full pro-rata pay is what they believe has been fair since the parties agreed to it in March. The clubs, however, say that rate was subject to further discussion (clubs’ translation: reduction) if pandemic-related conditions prevent fans from attending games. The players aren’t budging, and the clubs merely pursue further pay concessions using numbers that change but always seem to reach the same result.
So the sticking point, the primary impediment to an agreement, is how pro-rata the final pro-rata pay will be. The players won’t accept Friday’s offer because it proposes less than full pro-rata. And the proposal’s other elements really don’t mean much anymore because the clubs have a way to cram the players down.
If the players don’t accept, Commissioner Rob Manfred will almost certainly wield his power to unilaterally impose a schedule for the KC Royals and all other teams. The 48-game slate at full pro-rata everyone’s been talking about will become reality. All the owners have to do is give Manfred, their employee, the nod. Keep in mind he announced Wednesday that major league baseball will be played this year–he wasn’t predicting the parties would reach an accord, he was reminding the union that he can dictate a season against the players’ will.
And that, it seems, is what all the public haggling, public posturing, and public puffing has come down to. All signs pointed in Manfred’s direction at the end of business Friday: reportedly accompanying their offer was a terse letter from the clubs suggesting the union had negotiated in bad faith, giving it until Sunday to respond (nothing had happened as of this writing), and signaling that Friday’s offer was the owners’ final counter.
Unless they’re bluffing, the clubs are warning the players they have until sometime Sunday to accept Friday’s proposal and, if they don’t, the clubs are done talking. Cautioning the union that the counteroffer is their final counter means the clubs don’t intend to do anything but reject a union counteroffer.
And that will end the talks. The players aren’t going to accept anything less than full pro-rata to play 72 games–why would they agree to play 72 when they can play 48 for the same money? Why would they work more for the same pay they’d get for working less? And if the union believes a counteroffer won’t beget another, they won’t have a good reason to make one.
At that point, the owners’ desire for a shorter season than the players want will be realized and Manfred will pull the trigger on a 48-game campaign.
Another element of Friday’s proposal won’t make the players happy, either. Expanded rosters are necessary under the circumstances, but the clubs aren’t offering much: an increase of four roster spots to 30 for the season’s first two weeks, a drop to 28 for the next two, and 26 spots (the new roster limit being implemented this season anyway) for the remaining games. Like any other union, the Major League Baseball Players Association wants jobs for its members.
Time has all but run out on baseball’s labor talks. A 48-game season for the KC Royals is the probable result of the clubs’ Friday counteroffer.