If you didn’t realize how far apart Major League Baseball owners and players were in their negotiations over pay cuts for the proposed 2020 season, Max Scherzer served up a harsh reminder late Wednesday night that the chasm right now is vast.
The Nationals ace and member of the MLB Players Association’s eight-person executive subcommittee said the union has no intention of accepting any more salary reductions beyond what was already agreed to in late March. And he put the onus on owners to prove how much money they expect to lose during a shortened season with no fans in attendance by opening their books and revealing full financial information for the first time ever.
“After discussing the latest developments with the rest of the players there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions,” Scherzer wrote in a tweet published at 11:09 p.m. “We have previously negotiated a pay cut in the version of prorated salaries, and there’s no justification to accept a 2nd pay cut based upon the current information the union has received. I’m glad to hear other players voicing the same viewpoint and believe MLB’s economic strategy would completely change if all documentation were to become public information.”
Scherzer has long been one of baseball’s most outspoken players on matters of labor negotiations and league-wide matters, but he rarely uses social media to share his thoughts. Tuesday night’s message represented the first time he had posted to his Twitter account since April 14, only the third time he had posted anything in the last 14 months.
Scherzer’s never been one to shoot from the hip, and his decision to post this latest message surely was a calculated move on his part. Several other players have publicly expressed dissatisfaction with MLB’s formal request this week for players to accept further salary reductions based on a tiered scale, with the highest-paid players losing more this year than those making the league minimum. But Scherzer is easily the highest-profile player to speak out, both because of his standing as one of baseball’s best pitchers and because of his position within the union.
Players have maintained throughout the process MLB should be required to stick to the agreement the two sides struck on March 26, which concluded players would be paid a prorated portion of their regular 2020 salaries based on how many games are played this year. If MLB’s proposed 82-game season comes to fruition, players would receive roughly one-half of their salaries.
But MLB has since countered that the March agreement was contingent on games being played in front of fans, who account for a huge portion of teams’ annual revenue. Owners insist they stand to lose even more money if games cannot be attended, and thus are asking players to accept a further reduction in their salaries.
Players already shot down an unofficial proposal for a 50-50 revenue split with owners, insisting that would be the equivalent of a salary cap (something the union has staunchly opposed for decades). MLB formally proposed this week a revised system that would have the highest-paid players accept large pay cuts (ultimately earning as little as 15 percent of their original salaries) while the lowest-paid players accept smaller pay cuts (ultimately earning roughly 45 percent of their original salaries).
The union appears to have completely shot down that idea, and Scherzer’s statement Wednesday night underscores it.
But Scherzer’s message also brought up a key point that likely won’t sit well with owners: He’s asking them to open their books for the first time and prove they stand to lose as much money in a fan-less season as they claim they will.
Owner-player relations have been steadily devolving over the last two years as the free agent market has stagnated and players have accused too many owners of not trying to field competitive teams. So this current impasse isn’t terribly surprising. If nothing else, it foreshadows what already was expected to be a tense negotiation of the sport’s next collective bargaining agreement when the current deal expires after the 2021 season.
The circumstances around which the two sides are trying to conduct the 2020 season, however, are unlike any baseball has ever experienced. And given the current state of the country, with deaths from COVID-19 officially surpassing the 100,000 mark Wednesday, there’s probably very little sympathy from the general public for either billionaire owners or millionaire players.
Both sides know this. They also know nobody wins if there’s no season, and the losses (both financial and morale) could have long-lasting ramifications for a sport that cannot afford to lose its fan base.
Publicly, they may appear to be miles apart from each other. But as with so many other labor negotiations over the years, owners and players tend to find a way to strike a compromise once faced with a do-or-die deadline.
No official deadline exists right now. But there’s a consensus understanding something must be resolved in the next week to 10 days if teams are going to be able to resume spring training by mid-June and open the season in early July.
History suggests the two sides, for all their public bluster, will get something done just in the nick of time.
And if they can’t? Well, baseball might just end up losing a lot more than the 2020 season.