The first round of the 2020 MLB Draft will be held three days from now, hosted by commissioner Rob Manfred. With an extremely deep crop of draft-eligible talent, there is suspense about which order the players will come off the board, including who the Marlins will take with the No. 3 overall pick. But there will likewise be an intense spotlight on Manfred himself because for the first time in two
generations lifetimes, the league has not committed to playing any regular season games yet.
Most of what we know about the months-long negotiations between owners and the players’ association (MLBPA) has come via leaks provided to national reporters. Specifically, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Jon Heyman of MLB Network and ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Creating safe playing conditions while COVID-19 continues to infect people across the country should be the main concern. Protocols for that have largely been agreed upon, however—the current stalemate is instead over player compensation.
Fourth of July weekend has long been rumored as the regular season start date. Earlier this week, 58% of MLB fans surveyed for SB Nation Reacts said they believed that general timeframe was still attainable. Unfortunately, Rosenthal poured cold water on that Saturday in his latest column (The Athletic subscription required), characterizing the lack of progress as “nothing short of appalling.”
MLB owners insist that playing any games without receiving gate revenue would force them to operate at a loss...yet they refuse to open their books to justify this claim. Their position has been that players should be accepting less money on a per-game basis than they ordinarily would to account for these circumstances. But keep in mind that the vast majority of players are working on single-year contracts, being put at elevated risk of contracting COVID-19, and don’t have as much in the bank as you might imagine.
Although most fans don’t sympathize with these billionaires, there is plenty of blame to go around, according to the survey. Jeff Passan outlined a hypothetical compromise in which both sides made significant concessions.
Ideally, that would be the best outcome for the sport: MLB and the MLBPA (virtually) shaking hands on a deal. Another complex negotiation is on the horizon in late 2021 when the collective bargaining agreement expires, and they’ll need to have a cordial relationship to lay the foundation for long-term prosperity.
Realistically, Jon Heyman anticipates that Manfred will exercise his authority as commissioner to override everything and set the terms of the 2020 campaign:
“Manfred doesn’t want to invoke a short season and force baseball to open up. Although if he has to, that’s what he almost surely will do.”