Major League Baseball plans to hold a 60-game season that begins around July 24 but first needs players to sign off on a health-and-safety protocol and pledge to arrive at home stadiums by July 1 to prepare for the season, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.
The league’s owners voted to implement a 60-game season Monday, hours after the MLB Players Association rejected a 60-game proposal that would have included an expanded postseason and other ancillary salary bumps.
After nearly three months of fruitless negotiations, MLB opted to use the right given to it in the parties’ March 26 agreement to impose a schedule of its desired length. By choosing a season of 60 games, the league will pack in about as many games as it can through Sept. 27, the league’s self-imposed cutoff for the regular season to end.
Additionally, the 60-game season could serve as a buffer against a grievance by the MLBPA, which in the case of a potential implementation has been expected to charge the league did not fulfill its duty to complete as full a season as possible. The league could file a grievance against the union as well.
Multiple players told ESPN they expect to agree to the league’s call to report by July 1 and its health-and-safety protocol, with executive subcommittee member Andrew Miller telling ESPN, “We are ready to get back on the field.”
If they do, it would end a tortuous path to a return-to-play agreement in a typically confusing way: with the players rejecting a proposal, only to have one of the same length implemented.
After commissioner Rob Manfred flew to the Phoenix area to meet with union executive director Tony Clark last Tuesday, the league believed it had the framework of a deal in place. Union members balked at the 60-game framework and proposed 70 games — plus a larger chunk of postseason bonus money than the $25 million the league was offering as well as a cut of TV revenue from playoff expansion in 2021.
Owners were livid, rejecting the proposal and asking players to consider the original 60-game framework. On Monday evening, they rejected it overwhelmingly, by a 33-5 vote, setting the stage for the implementation.
“Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development,” MLB said in a statement. “The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new postseason format. And, it offered players significant benefits.”
The union earlier had suggested the league implementing a schedule was the next step, saying in a statement: “While we had hoped to reach a revised back to work agreement with the league, the Players remain fully committed to proceeding under our current agreement and getting back on the field for the fans, for the game, and for each other.”
In its statement, the league asked that the union provide two pieces of information by 5 p.m. ET Tuesday: whether players will be able to report to training by July 1 and whether the union “will agree on the Operating Manual which contains the health and safety protocols necessary to give us the best opportunity to conduct and complete our regular season and Postseason.”
Under imposition, the deal is spare. Players would receive the full prorated share of their salaries — about 37% of their full-season salaries and around $1.5 billion total. The postseason would remain at 10 teams. Players would not receive forgiveness on the $170 million salary advance they received as part of the March agreement and would get no money from the postseason. Players would not agree to wearing on-field microphones. Teams would not wear advertising patches on their uniforms. The universal designated hitter likely would remain in place, as it’s part of the health-and-safety protocol.
By rejecting the 60-game framework, the players retain their right to grieve the terms of the March agreement between the two sides. After spring training was shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the league and the players agreed that when play picked up, players would be paid on a prorated basis and would discuss the economic feasibility of playing without fans in the stands. The players’ association maintained that discussion had nothing to do with their pay. The disagreement led to months of acrimony between the sides.
The union had delayed its vote on the league’s latest proposal in order to collect new data regarding testing for COVID-19 after several recent outbreaks at training facilities in Florida and Arizona and in major league cities, sources told ESPN. All MLB training camps were temporarily closed after multiple teams reported positive tests on Friday, and the league announced Saturday that a restart of training would occur only in teams’ home cities. The players then delayed the vote again Sunday, sources said, after Manfred made late tweaks to the proposal, offering in an email to Clark to cancel expanded playoffs and the universal designated hitter for 2021 if 50 games weren’t played in 2020.
With implementation, that is all moot. What isn’t is that after all this time, Major League Baseball finally looks like it will try to play a season.