Where things stand on baseball resuming in 2020

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Yesterday’s news about Major League Baseball submitting an offer to the Major League Baseball Player’s Association has re-ignited the conversation about a 2020 baseball season. For those who haven’t been following closely, here’s where things stand at the moment.

On March 26, MLB and the MLBPA reached a general agreement about how to handle a 2020 baseball season. As far as money goes, there was an agreement that players would be paid their normal salaries on a prorated basis (i.e. if the season was 81 games long they’d receive 50% of their 2020 salary, etc), but a clause in the agreement stipulated that the sides would negotiate in good faith about the economic feasibility of playing a season without fans if that was necessary.

There is a lot of disagreement about what that clause really meant. Did it mean that the sides would decide if a season could be played at all with no fans? Did it mean that players would renegotiate salaries if there were no fans? I’ve personally spoken with two people who are privy to the agreement who say completely conflicting things about what they think that meant.

Which sort of matters, because it could dictate the MLBPA’s response to the offer Major League Baseball made yesterday.

First, that offer. We learned yesterday that it involved players being paid on a “sliding scale” in which the highest-paid players would receive larger pay cuts than lower-paid players. Yesterday evening ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported just how stark that financial divide would truly be:

Those are pretty massive cuts for top earners (i.e. the players whose skills and star power help MLB make most of its money) which, as Bill noted last night, seem pretty calculated to drive a wedge into the MLBPA’s membership, pitting the highest-paid players against the lower-paid players. It may already be working. Hard to say this early. We do know that it’s a proposal that is not sitting well at all with union leadership. In the next day or so, as we hear from more players directly and indirectly, we’ll get a better idea about how it is playing more broadly.

So how does the MLBPA respond? At least one labor law expert is suggesting that they shouldn’t respond.

Eugene Freedman, a labor lawyer and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, has argued for the past week or so that the March 26 agreement (which he refers to has the “MOU” or “Memo of Understanding”) has settled the matter of wages and that prorated salary has been agreed upon. That the owners have a choice of either playing the season or not playing the season but that, legally speaking, the matter of pay is closed and the players do not have a duty to negotiate it. If they counter yesterday’s offer, however, they have agreed to reopen the matter, he says.

It’s a compelling argument if the March 26 agreement is clear on that point. Which, again, I’m not sure that it is based on what people familiar with it have told me. It may not matter either way, though, because there have been at least some rumblings that the MLBPA will, in fact, make a counter offer. If they do, that part of the March agreement is over and we’re simply at the table negotiating over pay.

As for that negotiation, it troubles me for a lot of reasons that long time readers can pretty easily anticipate.

Baseball has seen nothing but skyrocketing revenues and profits for more than twenty straight years. At no time did Major League Baseball or its owners consider it a priority to share that prosperity with the players. Sure player salaries, generally, have risen, but they have not risen as much as revenues and, in the past few years they have flattened. The important point is that there has been an increasing detach between MLB’s prosperity and player compensation and vast swaths of increased revenue that the league and its clubs have realized has been fenced-off from the players.

Only now, when Major League Baseball faces the first prospect of losing some money — or, possibly, only losing some gains, as we don’t know how bad 2020 will be for the league — in decades are they considering the players full partners in the league’s financial picture. They’re treating it like they’re making a capital call on partners to help guard against losses after treating players like straight wage employees forever. It’s something that the players should, and many likely do, feel to be galling. A lot of businesses are facing losses in the COVID-19 landscape. How many of them are asking workers to take massive pay cuts? Not many. They’re either shutting down and firing workers if they can’t make a go of things or toughing it out, but they’re not premising the resumption of business on massive wage concessions.

In light of that. there is no doubt a contingent of the players who feel that MLB can decide if it wants to play or not in 2020 and, like any other business, make or lose money depending on how things go. There is nothing written in stone saying that every business has to be profitable every single year and Major League Baseball is no exception. Its owners got the benefits of the financial risks it has taken and they should be forced to accept some occasional losses. “Pay us or don’t play the season,” the players may counter. They may take a lot of heat from fans and from the media if they do it, but they shouldn’t be forced to negotiate with one hand tied behind their backs. The owners have upside and downside here too.

We’ll soon see what tack they take. If I had to guess, I’d guess that the players will make a counteroffer on money and that some sort of agreement is eventually hammered out. No matter how that goes, expect the players to be cast as greedy by the press and the public who will say that they are threatening the very viability of baseball. And, what’s more, that their doing so in the face of a global pandemic is appalling.

It’d be nothing new, of course. The players have been the bad guys when it comes to the business side of baseball since there was a business side of baseball. Nothing is going to change that.

Zack Britton’s season over, TJ surgery comeback out of time

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Zack Britton‘s season is over, his comeback from Tommy John surgery cut short after just three relief appearances for the New York Yankees.

New York put the 34-year-old left-hander on the 60-day injured list and selected the contract of right-hander Jacob Barnes from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Britton was removed after throwing a tiebreaking wild pitch in a 2-1 loss to Baltimore, an outing that lasted just nine pitches. The two-time All-Star had Tommy John surgery on Sept. 8, 2021, and made eight minor league injury rehabilitation appearances starting Aug. 24 and three big league appearances beginning Sept. 24. He threw 36 pitches to nine batters with a 13.50 ERA, six walks and one strikeout.

“Kind of running out of time here and having a little bit of fatigue last night, it’s like one of those things, you don’t want to power through that and reach for more and then do some damage as you’re coming back,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s in a good spot heading into the offseason.”

Britton had hoped to be able to help the Yankees in the postseason. He is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

“It’s just that final sharpness,” Boone said. “At this point in the season, just kind of up against it there. But he worked his tail off to put himself in this position and give himself an opportunity and certainly admire that.”

Barnes, 32, started the season with Detroit and was released on June 18 after going 3-1 with a 6.10 ERA in 22 relief appearances. He struck out 10 and walked nine in 20 2/3 innings.

Barnes signed a minor league contract with Seattle, made four relief appearances for Triple-A Tacoma, then was brought up by the Mariners and designated for assignment two days later without playing in a game. He refused an outright assignment, signed back with the Tigers and made five appearances at Triple-A Toledo. Released by the Mud Hens, he signed with Scranton on Aug. 30 and had a 2.25 ERA in 10 games for the RailRiders.

Boone said reliever Clay Holmes will not go on the IL after receiving a cortisone injection for inflammation in his right rotator cuff. If the Yankees had put Holmes on the IL, he would not be available for the Division Series.

After playing his first game since Sept. 4 and going 0 for 3, DJ LeMahieu said his injured right second toe felt fine. He is in a 2-for-41 slide.

“It felt good to play again,” LeMahieu said. “I felt like a baseball player.”

Matt Carpenter, sidelined since breaking his left toot on Aug. 8, ran on the field and will be among players reporting to training camp for Double-A Somerset, where there will be eight or nine pitchers. Boone anticipates Carpenter being available for the postseason as a pinch-hitter or designated hitter.

Right-hander Frankie Montas, sidelined since Sept. 16 by inflammation in his pitching shoulder, has resumed throwing.

“I don’t know about the Division Series,” Boone said, “more likely beyond.”