Players will decide what comes next after MLB’s ‘sliding scale’ pitch

MLB made its financial pitch to the Players Association on Tuesday. The key question when it comes to restarting a season is, how does the union take that pitch?

MLB’s plan, as first reported by USA Today, was to have a sliding scale, so that those who make the least in 2020 would receive the most and those who have the richest contracts would receive a smaller fraction of their salaries.

There also would be a kicker in which the players would receive a greater percentage of the salaries if the postseason is played — MLB receives the lion’s share of its national TV money from the playoffs.

One person who had been briefed on the proposal said the expectation is that players due to make $1 million or less in 2020 would be made close to whole on a prorated basis for games played. Thus, if someone were making the MLB 2020 minimum of $563,500 and 82 regular season games (almost exactly half a season) were played, they would receive roughly half their pay, about $282,000.

But players at the top of the pay chain such as Gerrit Cole and Mike Trout would get less. If that were in the 50 percent range — as an example — then Cole, who was due $36 million, this year would receive half of about the $18 million he would be due for half a season or roughly $9 million.

A source said there would be a few tiers between the lowest salaries and richest contracts, with the sliding scale impacting each tier.

What will be key is whether the union leaves a presentation that was to begin at 2 p.m. Tuesday having flatly rejected the concept. Or will the players want to take the proposal and have their own economic review of the material and feel out how their constituency feels about this format as a basis to begin a financial negotiation.

In other words, is this a starting point or an ending point?

The Players Association has maintained that the contract matter was decided in a March 26 agreement with MLB that called for players to receive their 2020 salaries on a prorated basis with a resumption of play. Union executive director Tony Clark has publicly said negotiation over salaries for this year “is over.”

However, that the union was willing to take a meeting and receive an updated financial proposal suggests at least some open mindedness. MLB has pointed to the portion of the March 26 agreement that stated further negotiations about financial feasibility needed to be had if games were not played with paid attendance — which is the status now. MLB has also insisted that the union understood those parameters when the March 26 agreement went into effect.

The union feels that players already have agreed to forfeit half their pay this season plus take on the risk of playing with the coronavirus pandemic still causing sickness and death.

The union also has been annoyed that it has been two weeks since a financial proposal was expected and the players were only receiving a concept now. As a player representative said, “Time is on no one’s side.” The expectation is that to begin spring training by mid-June and re-start the season the first week of July the sides would have to agree by around June 1. The union is concerned the delay is an MLB tactic to create public pressure on the players — amid so much financial hardship in the country — to accept reduced pay or look ungrateful and spoiled.

MLB had floated the idea of splitting 2020 revenues 50-50 with the players, which the union made clear was a non-starter before proposed, and that caused a slowdown in making a financial proposal, especially since MLB also was working to finalize a 67-page proposal on health and safety. The union has viewed a revenue-sharing concept as a slippery slope to a salary cap.

How will the players view this newest concept?

The union could worry, for example, that this proposal is designed to split the player ranks. For while the salaries to players such as Cole and Trout are what garner news, they are the exceptions. The Yankees were projected to have the largest payroll in 2020, but even they were going to have at least 10 and probably more players make $1 million or less. Every other team would have at least that many and often more. Plus, in 2020, if games are played rosters are going to be expanded, almost certainly with low-cost players

Thus, the union could be facing 50 percent or more of its membership being made close to whole while the richer players would be asked to subsidize that to some degree. Generally, veteran players who make the most are in leadership positions in the union. Will they decide to take less or not? If the union agreed to this kind of proposal would some of those players who make the most — especially if they have multi-year contracts into the future — refuse to play?

Also central to all of this is if ownership will blink if the union demands full prorated pay or nothing. There is pressure to play for the good of the game — that goes both ways, but certainly is felt strongly by owners. But there are owners who are saying that they are going to lose substantial amounts even with reduced pay and they are not going to agree to play under a system that guarantees even greater losses with prorated salaries.

Owners might be positioning themselves to say to someone such as Cole, would you like to make $9 million this year or nothing else without games played?

The future of the 2020 baseball season obviously will come down to whether the virus permits play and the sides agree to health and safety protocols — which they were said to be in much simpatico on — but also if the two contentious sides can agree to how players are paid. MLB made an offer Tuesday. How will the union receive that pitch?

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