MLB, union seem far apart, but middle ground awaits them

It’s hard to look at the competing proposals for the 2020 season offered up by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association and come to the conclusion that the two sides are anywhere close to striking a deal.

But here’s a key point that must be taken into consideration when trying to gauge the state of negotiations: Both sides are purposely making proposals that fall at the extreme ends of their acceptable spectrums. Not because anyone believes the opposing side is going to accept it. But because it sets the bar so far to the sides that an eventual deal closer to the middle will make them look better.

Don’t believe that? Consider the proposals that have been leaked to reporters in recent days ...

* The players want more games, as many as 114 in the regular season, making their demand to be paid a prorated portion of their original 2020 salaries sound more palatable.

* The league now suggests it could reduce the regular season to a mere 50 games, justifying their desire to pay the players a much lower percentage of their original salaries.

Eaton-Runs-Gray-Sidebar.jpgNeither proposal is going to end up coming to fruition. The 114-game season is too impractical, requiring scheduled doubleheaders nearly every week, only a handful of off-days and a postseason that would approach Thanksgiving and thus have to be played in neutral, warm-weather locations. The 50-game season, on the other hand, isn’t going to satisfy anyone, isn’t going to make clubs any substantial amounts of money and isn’t going to make this a legitimate championship season in the eyes of most who follow the sport.

But there was real calculation in choosing those numbers, on both sides. The players asked for 114 games knowing MLB will only agree if the number comes down. The league asked for 50 knowing the union will only agree if the number comes up.

And what just happens to be the midpoint between 50 and 114? What do you know, it’s 82, exactly the length of season MLB has been seeking all along. It’s enough games to constitute a legitimate season while still ensuring the postseason doesn’t stretch beyond Halloween.

Remember, this is a negotiation. You don’t walk into one of these meetings with a realistic offer. You make a wild proposal you know the other side will never accept, just so your follow-up offer will look more reasonable.

Rob Manfred, a labor lawyer long before he started working for MLB and a veteran of countless negotiations with the MLBPA, knows exactly what he’s doing. Tony Clark, whose labor background isn’t as extensive as his counterpart but still includes several successful agreements over the years, also knows what he’s doing.

The league wants a three-month regular season, followed by an expanded postseason. And it wants to reduce its financial loss from this unprecedented season as much as possible by paying the players as little as they’re willing to accept.

The union wants to be paid as much as possible for however many games are on the schedule. It’s willing to accept a deferral of a portion of its players’ salaries beyond 2020. And it wants to ensure the health and safety of its members and their families and give anyone who’s uncomfortable playing during a pandemic the ability to opt out without being penalized for it.

There is a middle ground to all of these issues. The two sides just have to be willing to actually go there and stop making demands that reside on the distant fringes of acceptability.

The clock, of course, is ticking. In order to start the season by July 4, a deal pretty much needs to be in place by the end of this week.

The time has come for both sides to start making offers the other side might actually accept.

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