Progress of Early Talks Between League, Players May Indicate Mutual Strategies Toward Compromise

There are plenty of reasons to remain skeptical about baseball’s viability in 2020, but I’ve maintained a cautious optimism that may actually be growing with the early reports of talks between the league and players. Is that just my rose-colored glasses obscuring some of the details? Maybe. However, there appear to be mutual strategies at play that could indicate both sides’ willingness to work this out.

Regardless of whether you favor the players or carry water for the owners, we can all agree that losing part or all of the season due to anything other than health and safety concerns would be very bad for baseball. Forget about good guys and bad guys and the vast differences between whether “illionaires” starts with an m or a b. A work stoppage would be terrible for everyone involved, fans included.

Both sides know that, of course, just as both sides understand that trying to fight the 800-pound gorilla first might kill them before they can even start dealing with less divisive topics. That’s probably why the financial situation wasn’t discussed Tuesday and may not be covered in earnest for a little while yet.

Keep in mind that players have already accepted a pay cut by agreeing to prorated salaries for games played. There’s a mistaken perception out there that that’s not actually a cut, but players and owners did have to come to an agreement that the union wouldn’t sue for back pay in the event of a lost season. Now the issue is that owners want to further reduce those prorated salaries due to having no fans at games, something they hope to accomplish by offering a 50/50 revenue split with players.

The problem there is two-fold: 1) player salaries have made up at least 53% of overall revenue in each of the last 10 years and probably beyond; 2) teams’ books aren’t public. Even if players were willing to take a smaller piece of pie, they don’t trust the owners to cut it properly. Likewise, the owners may be looking to regain or reestablish a little trust along the way.

Hence knocking out some of the easier agreements of the proposal along the way, like the universal DH. This one is a no-brainer given the simplified divisional play and desire to restart the game quickly, plus it’s something the players have largely been in favor of for a while.

Maintaining divisions as they are now would allow players to stay at or close to home by eliminating cross-country trips. Expanding the playoffs to 14 teams means more playoff shares to go around, so that is something the union will like. Do you see where this is going?

The owners probably view this as a way to get several yes answers and push the negotiations far enough down the road that the players won’t want to fight the pay issue as hard. Conversely, the union is showing that it’s willing to operate in good faith and may be able to negotiate the rev-share percentage up a little higher. I have no idea what’s happening in the minds of any of the parties involved, but that all makes sense in my own head.

Maybe this all just fizzles out and amounts to nothing, with the season scuttled and MLB looking like another league Vince McMahon tried to start up. I’d really like to think an acceptable arrangement can be made, though, because MLB teams are going to start furloughing workers on June 1 and it’d sure be nice for those folks to have jobs to return to at some point in the not-too-distant future.

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