Progress in latest round of talks, but no deal quite yet

Is it possible? Is it possible Rob Manfred and Tony Clark are close to a deal and the 2020 season is nearly upon us at last?

Well, yes and no.

After a Wednesday that featured a whirlwind of emotions, from brief moments of joy to forceful words of caution, here’s where it appears things stand: Manfred and Clark, after meeting in person (and in secret) in Arizona, seem to have made significant headway toward a deal. But not a completed deal, both because they didn’t sign any formal papers and because they still need their constituents (the owners for Manfred, the players for Clark) to agree to the terms.

Read Manfred’s most recent statement carefully ...

“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix,” the commissioner wrote. “We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents. I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today. Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”

Nats-Park-Grounds-Crew-sidebar.jpgThere’s a whole lotta qualifiers in that statement. They developed a “framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement.” That’s not an agreement. That’s the first step toward a potential agreement.

Which the Players Association seemed to make clear Wednesday, pouring ice water on all those who were prematurely celebrating a deal: “Reports of an agreement are false.”

So, what’s really going on here? Let’s piece together some details that have been reported in the last 24 hours, and add in some reasoned speculation based on how we’ve seen this play out over the last several weeks.

* The owners have given in to the players’ demand that they be paid their full prorated salaries, just as their March 26 agreement stated, with no further reductions in pay. They’ve offered a 60-game season, which would begin July 19 and conclude Sept. 27. (That’s a total of 70 days, by the way, which may prove important.)

* The owners also have reportedly told the players there will be a universal DH not only in 2020, but in 2021 as well. (Take a moment to cry some tears for pitchers hitting, because we may have seen the last of it in the major leagues, aside from the occasional weird moment when a manager moves his DH to a defensive position and forfeits the ability to bat for the pitcher.)

* In exchange for all that, the players would have to agree to an expanded postseason, again for both 2020 and 2021. Instead of the 10 teams that currently make it, a whopping 16 of 30 teams will qualify. (Again, shed a tear or two for the good old days when you actually had to win, like, 88 games to make the playoffs.)

* And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the players would have to agree not to file any grievances over the length of the schedule. That’s something they were threatening to do if Manfred unilaterally imposed a short, 50-ish-game season on them.

Major League Baseball seems perfectly content with these terms. The MLB Players Association does not.

The main hang-up likely remains the number of games on the regular season schedule. The players want more, because more games means more money. And they don’t want to give away the leverage they’ve got with the threat of a grievance.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t still room to negotiate, though. Remember that earlier point about the current proposal featuring 60 games in 70 days? Why do teams need 10 days off, especially with expanded rosters and no cross-country flights?

They don’t. Which is why it would not be surprising at all if the union asks for a few more games within that same window of time. Say, 66 games in 70 days.

Sounds reasonable, right? Get Manfred and Clark back together in a room again, and get it done.

For everyone’s sake, we can only hope it’s as simple as that.

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