MLB, MLBPA negotiations have turned very, very ugly

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Yesterday Major League Baseball and its owners made their latest offer to the players.

Given that the number of games and percentage of pay the players would receive in each offer changes, the value of each proposal can be complicated to get one’s head around. As a shorthand, though, it can be looked at this way:

  • Major League Baseball’s previous proposal guaranteed that players would earn 23.4% of their 2020 salaries to play a season with 46% of the usually-scheduled games, while providing them a chance to get 35.2% of their 2020 salaries if everything breaks right and the playoffs are played in their entirety;
  • The players counterproposal had them receiving 55% of their 2020 pay for 55% of a season in terms of games scheduled and would give the owners expanded playoffs for two years;
  • MLB’s latest proposal would give players 31.1% of salaries for a season that is 44% of the usual 162-game schedule with a chance to earn 35.5% if playoffs are played

The latest offer, once again, barely moves in the players’ direction. It’s at best a 7.7% move while demanding that the players move 20% in the owners’ direction. It likewise does not acknowledge that the players’ earned the right to receive prorated pay in the March Agreement between the union and the league, and asks them to play more games than that for which they will be paid in percentage terms. It is thus being characterized by many as yet another bad faith offer from the league.

More worrisome than the terms of the offer, however, is the tone the negotiations. A tone we now know of due to an article written yesterday afternoon by Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of the The Athletic, who obtained a copy of the letter from the league to the union which accompanied the offer.


The letter, from MLB’s chief negotiator Dan Halem, takes on a particularly nasty tone. In it Halem accuses the union of negotiating in bad faith, claims that the players’ assertion that they are entitled to prorated salaries is untrue, and even implies that the players are lucky to be in the position to receive any pay at all (e.g. the $170 million in salaries MLB advanced to the players in March) in light of the fact that Commissioner Manfred had the authority to suspend all contracts once President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. Indeed, Halem seems to imply that, it it were solely up to the league, perhaps it’d be better to not play at all:

Halem, however, writes the discussions leading to the March agreement between the parties that the league made it “crystal clear” to the union that the clubs would not be forced to resume play without fans because it would not be economically feasible. He adds the agreement awarded the players “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of benefits” in service time and salary advances even though the league could have chosen not to negotiate, citing the national emergency.

Does that sound to you like MLB is using a deadly pandemic as a negotiating tool? Because to me that sounds an awful lot like MLB is using a deadly pandemic as a negotiating tool.

Halem likewise mischaracterizes the position the union’s chief negotiator, Bruce Meyer, took in earlier communications. Halem is angry that Meyer, according to Halem anyway, said that the league “owes” it to players to play as many games as possible this season. The Athletic has a copy of the letter Halem is referring to, however, and Meyer never said that. Rather, he said “the league’s cynical tactic of depriving America of baseball games in furtherance of their demand for unwarranted salary concessions is short-sighted and troubling.” It’s a very different sentiment. To Halem, it’s a claim of entitlement. The players, however, simply seem to be asserting that more baseball is better. Which it is.

In response to Halem’s letter, the union provided The Athletic with a statement. The response itself strongly suggests that Halem is simply mischaracterizing past agreements and communications in his letter:

Mr. Halem’s self-serving letter is filled with inaccuracies and incomplete facts. We will respond to that and the league’s latest proposal in short order. It should not be forgotten however that even MLB admits that our March Agreement does not require players to agree to further pay cuts. Indeed, as Mr. Halem agreed in a May 18 letter to Tony Clark: “The Association is free to take the position that players are unwilling to accept further reductions.” Pat Houlihan, MLB legal counsel, similarly acknowledged in his May 22 letter to the Players Association. “We agree with the Association that, under the Agreement, players are not required to accept less than their full prorated salary.’”

One could — and many will — call this “both sides getting nasty” here, but if the union’s statement is true, and (a) there are two letters in which MLB admits that the players are entitled to prorated pay; but (b) Halem and the league continue to insist otherwise in their offers, it’s the very definition of bad faith on the part of Major League Baseball.


Here’s the question: if Halem admitted on May 18 and Pat Houlihan admitted on May 22 that the the players are entitled to prorated pay, why is Halem insisting otherwise now and why are the league’s offers still for less than prorated pay?

Based on my legal background and my experience in exchanging nasty letters with attorneys in the course of contentious negotiations,  I can think of two reasons. Neither of them are good.

The first possibility: Halem is covering his butt and is trying to keep the 30 MLB owners from getting mad at him and his boss, Rob Manfred.

When news of the March 26 agreement first came out, there was a lot of discussion about what it required. There were conflicting media reports and assertions from people who knew about what was still subject to negotiation and what was not. It strikes me as quite possible that the owners believed that prorated pay was not guaranteed and that the union would be forced to back down from that. Indeed, Jeff Wilpon told Andrew Cuomo just that back in April. The only reason they would believe that is if the men who negotiated the terms — Manfred and Halem — gave them that impression. Yet, if they gave the owners that impression in March or April, why are they now admitting otherwise in May letters to the MLBPA?

My guess is that it’s starting to dawn on some of the owners — particularly the ones who would be hit hardest financially if they had to pay prorated salaries — that Manfred and Halem got them a bad deal in March. Maybe they’re asking Manfred and Halem why they aren’t able to make less-than-prorated pay happen. Maybe they don’t even know that Halem and Houlihan admitted in previous letters that they know the players do not have to negotiate down from prorated salaries. If any of that is the case, Halem’s over-the-top bluster makes a great deal of sense. It’s him pounding the table, as it were, in order to make his client think he’s acting tough, to make the other side look like bad faith actors, and to keep his client from realizing he’s not holding as many cards as he thinks. If that’s the case, Halem might not even have the permission to make a fair deal, and he’s now trying to cover up for all of that with angry words. It happens in negotiations all the time. I’ve seen it happen. It looks exactly like this.

The second possibility: The owners and MLB brass have simply decided that they either want as short of a season as they can get or, possibly, would prefer to play no season at all, and they’re trying to lay the groundwork to make the players into the bad guys for it in the mind of the public. They’ll trash the players as bad faith actors and ingrates and hope that the press and the public runs with that narrative so that when they either (a) say the season will only be 48 games long; or (b) say that, actually, we can’t have a season, they don’t seem like the bad guys who preferred less or no baseball to something approaching a season of reasonable length.


Neither of those are good, but either way, this is ugly, folks. It’s important to understand, however, that it’s ugliness coming almost completely from Major League Baseball. The league seems, quite clearly, to be taking an aggressive and even disingenuous stance while the players are simply asserting their position in negotiations.

MLB free agent watch: Ohtani leads possible 2023-24 class

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CHICAGO – The number will follow Shohei Ohtani until it is over. No, not Ohtani’s home runs or strikeouts or any of his magnificent numbers from the field. Nothing like that.

It’s all about how much. As in how much will his next contract be worth.

Ohtani is among several players going into their final seasons before they are eligible for free agency. There is still time for signatures and press conferences before opening day, but history shows a new contract becomes less likely once the real games begin.

There is no real precedent for placing a value on Ohtani’s remarkable skills, especially after baseball’s epic offseason spending spree. And that doesn’t factor in the potential business opportunities that go along with the majors’ only truly global star.

Ohtani hit .273 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs last season in his fifth year with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2021 AL MVP also went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts on the mound.

He prepared for this season by leading Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship, striking out fellow Angels star Mike Trout for the final out in a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final.

Ohtani, who turns 29 in July, could set multiple records with his next contract, likely in the neighborhood of a $45 million average annual value and quite possibly reaching $500 million in total.

If the Angels drop out of contention in the rough-and-tumble AL West, Ohtani likely becomes the top name on the trade market this summer. If the Angels are in the mix for the playoffs, the pressure builds on the team to get something done before possibly losing Ohtani in free agency for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick.

So yeah, definitely high stakes with Ohtani and the Angels.

Here is a closer look at five more players eligible for free agency after this season:


Nola, who turns 30 in June, went 11-13 with a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts for Philadelphia last year. He also had a career-best 235 strikeouts in 205 innings for the NL champions.

Nola was selected by the Phillies with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. There were extension talks during spring training, but it didn’t work out.

“We are very open-minded to trying to sign him at the end of the season,” President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll remain a Phillie for a long time.”


Chapman hit 36 homers and drove in 91 runs for Oakland in 2019. He hasn’t been able to duplicate that production, but the three-time Gold Glover finished with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 155 games last year in his first season with Toronto.

Chapman turns 30 on April 28. Long one of the game’s top fielding third basemen, he is represented by Scott Boras, who generally takes his clients to free agency.


Hernández was acquired in a November trade with Toronto. He hit .267 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs in his final year with the Blue Jays. He was terrific in 2021, batting .296 with 32 homers, 116 RBIs and a .870 OPS.

The change of scenery could help the 30-year-old Hernández set himself up for a big payday. He is a .357 hitter with three homers and seven RBIs in 16 games at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.


The switch-hitting Happ is coming off perhaps his best big league season, setting career highs with a .271 batting average, 72 RBIs and 42 doubles in 158 games. He also won his first Gold Glove and made the NL All-Star team for the first time.

Chicago had struggled to re-sign its own players in recent years, but it agreed to a $35 million, three-year contract with infielder Nico Hoerner on Monday. The 28-year-old Happ, a first-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, is on the executive subcommittee for the players’ union.


Urías, who turns 27 in August, likely will have plenty of suitors if he reaches free agency. He went 17-7 with an NL-low 2.16 ERA in 31 starts for the NL West champions in 2022, finishing third in NL Cy Young Award balloting. That’s after he went 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA in the previous season.

Urías also is a Boras client, but the Dodgers have one of the majors’ biggest payrolls. Los Angeles also could make a run at Ohtani, which could factor into its discussions with Urías’ camp.