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An owner-player salary fight could be looming

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Back in March, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement over pay for the 2020 season. The upshot:

  • The league would advance the players a lump sum payment of $170 million which players would divide amongst themselves via means they determine appropriate;
  • If there is no season, the players get to keep that money but do not get any more; but
  • If the season is played, players will receive their salaries on a pro-rata basis based on the number of games played. 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, but it seems now that the owners are not too keen on it.

We heard the first rumblings about this in mid-April, when there was a report that at least one owner, Jeff Wilpon of the Mets, was expecting that the league would approach the players about further concessions in the event the season begins.

Now we’re hearing some more rumbling. From Evan Drellich of The Athletic:

Some league officials and team executives believe the best plan for baseball in 2020 would include a totally revised economic system — a revenue-sharing arrangement between the players and teams, if only for one year.

Their argument: No one has any idea how many tickets will be sold to 2020 games, if any; to promise players a certain salary ahead of time could leave either party overly exposed to an extreme outcome.

This, as Drellich notes, could lead to a huge fight that could imperil whatever can be salvaged of the 2020 season.

The reason: there was, as noted above, already a deal. That deal creates some pretty big downside for the players if there is no season given that the $170 million lump sum represents less than 4% of overall payroll from 2019 once you figure in bonuses and benefits and stuff. That downside, the players gambled, would be offset by the upside of pro-rata pay should some portion of the season be played. The players position, I suspect, would be “If the owners didn’t like that deal, perhaps they shouldn’t have made it.”

It’s also worth noting that the matter of revenues, which would necessarily be the basis for any revenue sharing deal, is historically fraught with ambiguity. Owners only share certain revenue figures with players, not all. They also have a ton of revenue sources which they will likely argue should not be subject to any deal for 2020. The Braves, for example, own a massive real estate development around their park that, in many ways, benefits from the playing of baseball games there. So do the Cardinals. Will players get a cut of that too? If not, why not? How about media deals? How about those business partnerships with sports books? How about the money that comes in from so-and-so company being “the official so-and-so company of Major League Baseball?”

None of this is to say that some novel, alternative arrangement isn’t theoretically better for everyone involved for 2020. It may be. We’re in uncharted waters. There could be win-wins to be found here if they go back to the table and figure one out.

The problem is that it’s taken decades of bloody battle and incalculable hours — probably better measured in years — at bargaining tables simply to get to the system in place. Now, with everyone sort of penciling in a new Opening Day in less than two months, they’re expected to reinvent the wheel? Especially after a deal has already been reached and especially when it’s one (a) initiated by the owners, who have a track record of trying to sucker the players whenever possible; and (b) revolves around a metric — revenue — that is probably harder to capture and agree upon than any other?

Good luck with that.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”