NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball made another try to start the coronavirus-delayed season in early July, proposing a 76-game regular season, expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to as many as 16 and allowing players to earn about 75% of their prorated salaries.
Players have refused cuts beyond what they agreed to in March shortly after the pandemic began, part of baseball’s again acrimonious labor relations. The arduous negotiations have jeopardized plans to hold opening day around the Fourth of July in empty ballparks and provide entertainment to a public still emerging from months of quarantine.
MLB’s latest proposal would guarantee 50% of players’ prorated salaries over the regular season, according to details obtained by The Associated Press,.
The proposal would eliminate all free-agent compensation for the first time since the free-agent era started in 1976. It also would forgive 20% of the $170 million in salaries already advanced to players during April and May.
“If the players desire to accept this proposal, we need to reach an agreement by Wednesday,” Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a letter to union negotiator Bruce Meyer that was obtained by The Associated Press. “While we understand that it is a relatively short time frame, we cannot waste any additional days if we are to have sufficient time for players to travel to spring training, conduct COVID-19 testing and education, conduct a COVID-19 testing and education, conduct a spring training of an appropriate length, and schedule a 76-game season that ends no later than Sept. 27.”
“While we are prepared to continue discussion past Wednesday on a season with fewer than 76 games, we simply do not have enough days to schedule a season of that length unless an agreement is reached in the next 48 hours,” he added.
There was no immediate response from the union, which is likely to view the plan as a step back because of the large percentage of salaries not guaranteed.
While there is no chance players would accept this proposal as is, the offer dropped the sliding scale teams embraced last month that would have left stars with just a fraction of their expected pay. The latest proposal figures to spark more talks that could lead to opening day at some point in the first half of July.
Players agreed March 26 for prorated salaries that depend on games played, part of a deal for a guarantee of service time if the season was scrapped.
MLB says it can’t afford to play in ballparks without fans and on May 26 proposed an 82-game schedule. The union countered with a 114-game schedule at prorated pay that would extend the regular season by a month through October.
MLB is worried a second wave of the virus would endanger the postseason — when MLB receives $787 million in broadcast revenue.
Teams estimate the new offer plan would guarantee $1.43 billion in compensation: $955 million in salaries, including an allowance for earned bonuses; $393 million if the postseason is played for a 20% bonus for every player with a big league contract; $50 million for the regular season postseason pool normally funded with ticket money; and $34 million for the forgiven advances.
Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole, who have the highest salaries of $36 million each, would have been guaranteed $5.58 million each under the initial MLB proposal with the chance to earn up to about $8 million, and $25.3 million apiece in the union plan. They would be guaranteed $8,723,967 each under the offer and would get $12,190,633 apiece if the postseason is completed.
A player at the $563,500 minimum could earn up to $244,492 and those at $1 million — about half those on current active rosters — could get up to $389,496.
MLB estimates its revenue would drop from $9.73 billion last year to $2.75 billion this year with a 76-game seasons. Adding prorated shares of signing bonuses, option buyout, termination pay, assignment bonuses and benefits, MLB says players would get 70.2% of revenue, up from 46.7%. Also factoring in signing bonuses for amateurs in the draft this week and international players, MLB projects players would get 86.2%, up from 52.1%.
Expansion of the playoffs would make a major change for MLB’s 30 clubs. Postseason teams doubled to four with the split of each league into two divisions in 1969, then to eight with the realignment to three divisions and the addition of a wild card in 1995, a year later than planned due to a players’ strike. The postseason reached its current 10 with the addition of a second wild card and a wild-card round in 2012.
Players proposed expanding the playoffs to 14 teams in both 2020 and ‘21. The MLB plan doesn’t specify a format other than as many as eight clubs per league.
Free agent compensation has long caused bitter fights since the arbitration decision in December 1975 that struck down the reserve clause — it led to an eight-day strike during spring training in 1980 and a 50-day strike during the 1981 season. Compensation had been narrowed in recent years but still caused some free agents to have fewer bidders and to sign later, such as pitchers Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel in 2018.
MLB proposed dropping the loss of draft picks and international signing bonus pool allocation for signing a qualified free agent.
All players would have the right to opt out and not play, but only high-risk individuals would be treated as if injured and would receive salary and service time.