MLB will impose season after players vote down final offer

The Major League Baseball Players Association resoundingly voted down the league’s latest (and final) proposal for the 2020 season this evening, leaving commissioner Rob Manfred to unilaterally impose a shortened season on the players, the details of which should be announced in the next 24 to 48 hours.

The MLBPA executive committee - made up of 30 team representatives and the eight-man subcommittee that includes Nationals ace Max Scherzer - formally voted today not to accept the league’s latest offer of a 60-game season with 104 percent of prorated pay, an expanded postseason and the universal designated hitter. That vote, by a reported 33-5 count, emphasized the players’ unwillingness to give away their right to file a grievance over the length of the season Manfred will now impose on them.

A grievance, claiming MLB did not adhere to the sport’s original March 26 agreement to schedule as many games as were safely possible, could be heard at some point but won’t prevent the season from being played as planned.

“While we had hoped to reach a revised back-to-work agreement with the league,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark wrote in a statement, “the players remain fully committed to proceeding under our current agreement and getting back on the field for the fans, for the game and for each other.”

Despite speculation Manfred would announce his unilateral plan for the season tonight, the commissioner did not reveal specific details including the number of games, instead requesting the union respond to two key questions by 5 p.m. Tuesday before making it official: whether players can report to camp by July 1, and whether they’ll agree to the health and safety protocols that have been recommended for this unprecedented season.

“Today the Major League Baseball Players Association informed us that they have rejected the agreement framework developed by Commissioner Manfred and Tony Clark,” the league said in a statement. “Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development. The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. ...

“In view of this rejection, the MLB clubs have unanimously voted to proceed with the 2020 season under the terms of the March 26 agreement.”

At issue throughout this arduous process is the deal the sides agreed to nearly four months ago, one that was hastily cobbled together before what should’ve been opening day before the global pandemic brought a halt to the sport and society as a whole. In that deal, owners agreed to pay players a prorated portion of their salaries based on the eventual number of games that would be played in 2020.

Two months later, once it became clear the length of season would be cut at least in half and that fans would not be allowed to attend in person, MLB asked the players to take further pay cuts to offset the clubs’ anticipated revenue losses. The union has steadfastly opposed that request and hasn’t budged from it since.

Soto-Misplays-Ball-White-NLDS-Sidebar.jpgThe March agreement did, however, include a provision that allows Manfred to unilaterally impose the length of the season on the players, provided the commissioner made a good faith effort to schedule as many games as safely possible.

A one-sided imposed season always loomed as the league’s last resort, and Manfred (who has played a key role in maintaining 25 years of labor peace since the devastating 1994 strike) continued to seek a negotiated deal.

But no such deal materialized. The two sides have been at an impasse for more than a week, since Clark declared the players were unwilling to make any more concessions beyond what they already agreed to and essentially demanded Manfred unilaterally impose the season on them.

“It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile,” Clark said on June 13. “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

The “Tell Us When and Where” mantra was echoed by dozens of players, who seemed to be winning over a sizeable portion of the fan base that has had little tolerance for this financial fight in the middle of a pandemic. Manfred, though, insisted on making one more attempt at negotiations and flew to Arizona a few days later to meet face-to-face with Clark.

At that meeting, Manfred offered 60 games at full prorated pay - finally conceding to one of the players’ most ardent demands from the original late March agreement - as well as an expanded 16-team postseason and the universal DH in both leagues. In return, the commissioner asked the players to give up their right to file a grievance against the league.

Manfred returned home from Arizona believing the framework for a deal was in place, but Clark adamantly refuted that notion and said he still needed to consult with players. The union came back with a counterproposal for a 70-game season, then waited for the owners’ response.

The response came Friday, with MLB refusing to negotiate any further and sticking with its final proposal of a 60-game season. The players then spent the weekend deliberating and today held their vote on accepting or refusing the owners’ offer, which MLB revealed tonight included an increase to 104 percent of prorated pay in addition to the expanded postseason and universal DH.

Now the league has decided to hold the season on its own terms. All that’s left to be announced are the specific details.

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