Are the owners going to try to cut player pay even if the season happens?

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There’s a little controversy brewing that, actually, I don’t think we can even call a controversy yet. But because it could become a controversy, let’s map it out so we all know what’s going on if and when it becomes an actual controversy, OK? Good.

So: You’ll recall that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement over pay back in March. The upshot:

  • The league would advance the players a lump sum payment of $170 million. If there is no season, the players get to keep that money; and
  • If the season, somehow, is played, players will receive their salaries on a pro-rata basis based on the number of games played. For example, if a player makes $8 million and they manage to squeeze in an 81-game season, the player will get $4 million. Basic math. Presumably, whatever the player got out of that $170 million will be backed out of that since it was characterized as an “advance.”

Seems pretty straightforward, yes? Well, maybe.

Yesterday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo was on CNN and talked about a phone call he had with Mets COO Jeff Wilpon. Cuomo described whaat Wilpon told him on the call like this:

“Apparently Major League Baseball would have to make a deal with the players because if you have no one in the stands, then the numbers are going to change, right? The economics are going to change. But if Major League Baseball and the players could come into an agreement on how to adjust the economics for that reality, I think that would be a good thing. You know we have to start to move to normalcy and people have to see some sort of hope and light.”

This has since been characterized by many in the media as Jeff Wilpon telling Cuomo that, if there is a partial season or a no-fans season, that the owners are going to expect the players to make further concessions than those already contained in the March agreement.

Can they do that? Didn’t the March agreement cover this? Again, maybe. Today Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic said this:

A separate section of the deal, listing the conditions for games to resume, says the commissioner’s office and the union “will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.” Similar phrasing exists in other parts of the agreement as well.

One person with knowledge of the deal said the clause was not intended to signal any willingness by the players to reopen salary discussions. Others said the issue was left undecided, and that the league made it clear to the union that economic adjustments would be necessary if games were played in empty parks.

You can guess that the “one person” represents player interest in some capacity and the “others” represent league interests. Meaning that, even if all of the crazy uncertainty surrounding how the season might be played is resolved, we could then have a whole new fight over how much the players would be paid to play that season.

At the moment I’d say that that will sit on the back burner for a couple of reasons.

First off, we don’t know who is truly thinking what about the March agreement really means in this regard. All we have is Andrew Cuomo saying what he thinks Jeff Wilpon told him and basing one’s view of any given matter on a game of telephone originating with Jeff frickin’ Wilpon is probably not a strong basis for freaking out in one direction or another.

Mostly, though: the fight is probably moot unless they come up with some workable idea to play any baseball in 2020, and we’re nowhere close to that.

But keep it all in your back pocket for later. No baseball argument ever really dies, so we may be revisiting all of this at a latter date.