Less than a week after assuring “100 percent” there would be a season in some form, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that the players’ refusal to continue negotiating has now left him uncertain any games will be played this year.
“I’m not confident,” Manfred told ESPN. “I think there’s real risk. And as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue."
Or at least he said it was. If it instead was a bid to get the union back to the table to negotiate other issues besides pay, as well as a promise to not pursue legal claims over the negotiations, the players weren’t buying it.
“Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told Players and fans that there would ‘100%’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season," union chief Tony Clark said in a statement.
Clark on Saturday deemed negotiations that have dealt primarily with player pay over, saying “it unfortunately appears” further talks “would be futile,” and that “it’s time to get back to work," asking the league to tell them by Monday afternoon “when and where” to report.
Absent a new offer that led to an unexpected agreement, Manfred was expected to announce that the league would give the players the full prorated pay they wanted but use its right to set the schedule and impose an abbreviated season, likely around 54 games.
The players want more games, as they are paid based on how many are scheduled, and would get only one-third of their original salaries with a 54-game season. Owners have been seeking a further reduction in salaries, a percentage of the prorated amount, to offset staging games without fans, and thus revenue.
Some on the players side think the owners’ goal is to play as few games as possible, and are stalling now so there will be less time on the calendar to schedule more games before the planned Sept. 27 end of the regular season.
Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer took to Twitter on Monday night to accuse Manfred of doing so: "The tactic is to bluff with “no season” again and delay another 2-3 weeks until you clear the risk of “not negotiating in good faith by trying to play as many games as possible”. The public backlash combined with potential of having to explain yourself in front of an arbitrator isn’t too appealing, is it?''
Other players, who have been working out in some form since spring training camps closed in mid-March, have made clear they just want to get back on the field.
That has been the tenor of comments from several Rays who have been working out at Tropicana Field the past three weeks, and of others around the league taking to social media.
"Tell us when and where. WE ARE ALL READY,'' Tampa’s Pete Alonso, the Mets star, tweeted.
Talking with ESPN for a show that aired Monday night involving all sports, Manfred said the union ending the negotiations with a need to still work out an agreement on health-and-safety protocols and other issues to start play was “really negative” in their efforts.
"The owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field," Manfred said. "Unfortunately, I can't tell you that I'm 100 percent certain that's gonna happen."
Manfred told ESPN that he thinks the union will file a grievance stemming from the league’s commitment in a March 26 agreement that dealt with multiple aspects of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown to play as many games as possible. Given the overall confrontational aspect of the talks, he probably has reason to think that way.
“I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players full prorated salary, that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26,” Manfred said.
“Unfortunately, over the weekend, while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union’s top lawyer was out telling reporters, players and eventually getting back to owners that as soon as we issued a schedule — as they requested — they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars. Obviously, that sort of bad-faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances.”
Concerns about that grievance, and the potential financial consequences of losing, do appear to be a major factor. MLB reportedly informed the union in a letter Monday there would be no season unless the players waived any legal claims against the league.
“Any implication that the Players Association has somehow delayed progress on health and safety protocols is completely false, as Rob has recently acknowledged the parties are ‘very, very close,'” Clark said. “This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning. This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from Players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”
The sense of doom is not universal throughout the game, as some remain optimistic, even confident, a season will be played.
Manfred acknowledged time was running out and they were trying to re-engage with the union. And how incredibly bad the impasse looked given the overall impact of the pandemic.
“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it," Manfred said. “It shouldn’t be happening, and it’s important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans."
Another issue of some concern is the recent increase in positive tests for COVID-19 in areas where teams are based. The Associated Press reported Monday that it had obtained a letter saying several unnamed players and staff have tested positive.
Rays’ workouts ongoing
Some Rays continued their work Monday to prepare for whatever form of season they have. About 16 players worked out at Tropicana Field, the 10th of the thrice-weekly voluntary sessions for 40-man roster players since the stadium was re-opened on May 25.
Operating under social distancing and other coronavirus precautions, players took batting practice on the field in groups of two while Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Charlie Morton, and Ryan Yarbrough were among the pitchers throwing off the mound