Braves: The return of MLB is being hindered by its own commissioner

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Despite commissioner Rob Manfred’s 100% confidence in a season happening just a week ago, it may be time to pump the brakes. On Monday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Manfred now says he’s “not confident” there will be a season this year. 

This comes just days after the league presented an updated proposal to the MLBPA — a plan that featured a 72-game season and guaranteed at least 70% of the players’ full prorated salaries (with an additional 13% added on once the 2020 postseason is completed). Altogether, MLB’s latest offer this past weekend has been the highest made thus far, essentially paying players $1.5 billion if the playoffs are played and roughly $1.3 billion if they are not. However, despite a tiny move in the right direction by the league, this most-recent proposal still guarantees players less than what they’d earn in a unilaterally-forced, full-prorated 54-game season (by about $350 million overall in guaranteed salaries). Therefore, the Players Union once again quickly rejected MLB’s proposal, and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark made it clear the union has no plans to make a counteroffer. In fact, Clark asked the league to “tell us when and where”, referring to Manfred’s ability to set the schedule in the event neither side can collaborate a deal (which was agreed upon back in March). 

Although it appears Manfred has now decided to renege on that obligation, as the LA Times’ Bill Shaikin dropped a bombshell on Monday:

Honestly, this is yet another ridiculous move by Manfred in what has been a long line of them during this entire mess. First, the potential for there to be a filed grievance from the MLBPA — if the 2020 season was to be decided by Manfred — has been evident since Day 1 of negotiations. It’s not as if MLB just learned of such a thing over the weekend. Throughout this entire process, it had already been established that the Players Union, if they failed to get what they wanted, would file a grievance against the league, for it would at the very least push the owners into sharing information regarding revenues and other unknown figures while also possibly giving players back-pay. From the players’ perspective, this (a grievance) was essentially their only leverage, especially given how adamant the league has been at the negotiating table. From the beginning, MLB has blatantly shown no interest in providing the union what it wants, so the players were prepared to go through with a season… although not without an objection. 

But now Manfred is going back on his word and telling the MLBPA that if there’s to be a 2020 season it must waive a possible grievance — an ultimatum that doesn’t line up with what the two sides agreed on in March — that cancelling the season would be a last resort and only if public health conditions warranted such a decision. 

Since May, both parties have combined to offer five different proposals. However, the three coming from MLB have mostly followed along the same path, with each plan giving players around 30% of their 2020 salaries (or close to $1.2 billion in overall guaranteed money compared to the $4.1 billion owed over a full 162-game season). It’s hard to blame the players for holding their ground, especially since we’re past the point where a July 4th start date is feasible, which in retrospect seemed like an appropriate compromise for both MLB and the MLBPA (though once again… the league couldn’t guarantee full prorated salaries). Yet even though the two sides have been so far apart, the league still ensured it would implement a 50 or so game season. I mean, Manfred said it himself when he told ESPN’s Karl Ravech last week that there was a “100% chance” of a season happening in some form. “I can tell you, unequivocally, we are gonna play Major League Baseball this year,” Manfred said.

It would be one thing for the commissioner to walk back his statement due to increasing health concerns, as it would seem understandable to feel unsure about the pandemic going forward; but for Manfred to have a change of heart simply because the players won’t concede to the league’s demands is petty, and unfortunately, has already caused quite a stir from players across the league.

Of course, this could be an ill-timed bluff by MLB. However, at this point, I’m not so sure that would be any better. It’s already quite evident the league doesn’t view playing baseball games as a top priority, and this latest bit of shenanigans just seems like an easy out, ensuring the Players Union is stuck with an impossible decision (even though it’s the league that has retracted its stance). 

All of this especially looks tone-deaf with regards to the Braves — the only team owned by a publicly traded entity, which as a result, is the only team who must report its revenues. While America’s unemployment has soared and many have been forced to make massive compromises both in everyday life and financially, Liberty Media has flourished from its $476 million in earnings this past year— an 8% increase from the previous year. Companies are in business to make money and criticizing one for doing that is a bit silly, but when a said company can’t seem to provide the necessary concessions to its employees to allow for a season… it certainly leaves a bad taste (however, I’m not saying it’s solely LM’s fault there’s no baseball). 

Either way, time’s running out. A July 4 opening day is long gone, and even if everything is magically worked out soon, the 2020 season couldn’t realistically begin until somewhere around mid-July when accounting for a week to gather players and three weeks worth of a second spring training. And given MLB has already said it won’t allow games past Sept. 27, that allows for around ten weeks of games in a perfect scenario, meaning only 50-60 games is possible without having a ton of double-headers… and that’s if everything is worked out this week. At this point, we’re basically down to the final stretch, where an actual decision must be made, although the situation has worsened due to a commissioner unwilling to cooperate. If Manfred doesn’t kill any prospect of a season, the calendar will, but either cause will make for a catastrophic effect.


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