Monday, MLB owners approved a deal for the 2020 season to send to the MLBPA for union approval. However, simply because the league’s owners agreed to a pact for an adjusted 2020 season doesn’t guarantee much of anything.
In fact, there’s already evidence that MLB and MLBPA may be far away on a key issue – player compensation.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network says that baseball owners believe they will actually lose money if they play games and pay players prorated salaries – even more than they would lose if the season was altogether cancelled. Heyman says that “owners are saying they will not pay prorated salaries.”
Instead of prorated salaries, owners want to split revenue 50/50 with players, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Certainly, overall revenue will be significantly lower in 2020 than in a normal year. The best-case scenario right now appears to be that baseball plays about half of a normal regular season slate and at least begins the season without fans in attendance.
It is worth pointing out that by conceding in March that they wouldn’t fight for players to receive their full salaries in 2020, MLBPA has already agreed to some level of a paycut. For example, Bryce Harper was scheduled to make $26 million in 2020. If the regular season ended up being 81 games and players were making prorated salaries, he would net $13 million this year. And, of course, most players don’t make nearly as much money as Harper.
Additionally, by definition a player has less time to maximize their earnings than an owner does, and hurdles to clear like pre-arbitration years and arbitration-eligible years before they can truly earn the most money possible.
To be fair, owners did concede in March that all major league players will accrue a year of service time in 2020 regardless of the length of the season. That means that whether the 2020 season is 81 games long, zero games long or somewhere in between, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius will still become free agents this offseason.
In all of these scenarios, players have more to lose. Ownership groups are typically made up of billionaires, who don’t have the short period of time to make money off of their skills that a player does. That will almost certainly impact these negotiations, as it does in the case of any labor disputes.
Even if MLB and MLBPA ultimately reach a deal for the 2020 season to be played, it does appear that players will be hit hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19. Andy Martino of SNY said Monday that a “high-ranking executive” told him that his team plans to slash their payroll “significantly this offseason.” That may help the Phillies to retain J.T. Realmuto at a cheaper price than initially anticipated, but it’s certainly not a great sign when the league’s current collective bargaining agreement is due to expire after the 2021 season.
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