On Monday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred walked back a previous comment in which he said, “We’re going to play baseball in 2020, 100%.” Manfred this time he is “not confident” there will be a 2020 season.
Manfred, who was on a conference call with MLB owners earlier in the day, accused the MLB Players Association of negotiating in “bad faith,” intending to file a grievance “claiming that they were entitled to an additional billion dollars.” The league said it would not have a 2020 season unless the players waive their right to legal claims against the league.
It was the latest in an increasingly ugly line of public messaging between MLB ownership and the union. The union had its chance to respond Monday evening, issuing a statement from executive director Tony Clark. The statement read:
Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told Players and fans that there would ‘100%’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season. Any implication that the Players Association has somehow delayed progress on health and safety protocols is completely false, as Rob has recently acknowledged the parties are ‘very, very close.’ This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning. This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from Players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.
After ownership sent in another similar, unpalatable proposal to the MLBPA, the MLBPA cut off negotiations. Their statement ended, “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.” Manfred, as negotiated back in March, can invoke a regular season of any length. That was what “Tell us when and where” meant. Rather than live up to the threat, Manfred — on behalf of the owners — moved the goalposts yet again.
As many have mentioned, including former front office exec Jim Bowden, this latest act from Manfred could be a delay tactic. If he were to implement a season, there would be enough time between now and the end of September to schedule anywhere from around 65 to 75 games (including an approximately three-week “Spring Training 2.0”). However, ownership wants fewer games as they claim that they lose money for every game played. If Manfred implemented a season right now and it was closer to the 50-game season they want, MLB could be accused of not making a good faith effort to play as many games as possible. Stalling by any means necessary increases the likelihood the MLBPA won’t win a grievance on those grounds.
That, coupled with MLB’s asking players to waive their legal recourse, suggests that this is all about MLB leadership covering their butts and saving ownership as much money as possible.