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Some MLB owners reportedly ‘perfectly willing’ to cancel 2020 season

The calendar will flip to June Monday, and there still isn’t an agreement for a 2020 season to take place. That doesn’t mean one won’t ultimately be reached, but it’s impossible to ignore another month coming and an agreement to return to spring training not yet being in place.

Citizens Bank Park is home to the Phillies. (Tim Kelly/Phillies Nation)

However, ESPN’s Buster Olney says that there is a faction of owners who don’t have a sense of urgency to reach a deal for the 2020 season with the MLBPA unless it comes on their terms:

Sources say there is a group of owners perfectly willing to shut down the season, to slash payroll costs and reduce losses, and the disparate views among the 30 teams have been reflected in the decisions to fire and furlough. 

Given that Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Aaron Nola are all theoretically in what should be their peak years, one would think that John Middleton and the Phillies ownership group aren’t part of the group that are willing to potentially skip the 2020 season based on finances. Additionally, Phillies ownership sent an e-mail last month saying that full-time employees wouldn’t be laid off or furloughed at any point before the conclusion of October, a memo that was obtained by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

In that email, though, the ownership group didn’t rule out pay cuts, citing the “extraordinary loss of revenue” from the COVID-19-forced delay to the season.

Still, the suggestion in the email was that ownership still thought there would be some sort of 2020 season. Maybe there will be, but even as some states begin to open back up in phases, finances appear to be threatening the 2020 season.

Even though the MLBPA had previously agreed that player salaries would become pro-rated based on the number of games during the 2020 season, MLB has again asked players to make more concessions.

After a pretty negative reaction to the leaked suggestion of owners and players splitting revenue in 2020, MLB owners ultimately sent a plan to the player’s association that involved senior players taking the largest pay cuts as part of tiered system. Harper was scheduled to make $26 million in 2020, but would make just over $4.7 million under this proposal. Similarly, Realmuto, Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius would see their salaries slashed in 2020, as Phillies Nation‘s Ty Daubert outlined.

Some accused MLB owners of attempting to divide and conquer the players with this plan, one that would negatively affect veteran players more than pre-arbitration eligible ones. Evidently, they haven’t been successful in dividing the player’s union thus far, with seven-time All-Star Max Scherzer leading a chorus of notable players who have publicly bashed the proposal. Late last week, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that players were “pretty galvanized” on a phone call in response to MLB’s proposal, with the suggestion that they felt the offer was so insulting that they may not come back with a counter proposal to it. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t continue to discuss how a season could happen in 2020, but it’s evidence that the two sides aren’t close to reaching an agreement.

Sunday, Heyman poured cold water on the idea that there may be a bunch of owners willing to cancel the season if it doesn’t take place on their terms. He says it would take eight owners to be willing to cancel the season, and estimates that that at most there are two or three that legitimately feel comfortable with such an idea.

Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard the idea that owners would like to have a season, but only if it’s done in a way where they feel games will turn a profit. In April, ESPN‘s Jeff Passan reported that there were “multiple owners” concerned with the idea that it could actually cost them money to put on a 2020 season, as opposed to being a profitable venture. MLB owners have yet to release financial evidence that their organizations will lose more money by having a season without fans in attendance than they would if the season was altogether cancelled. It’s also fair to wonder exactly how ownership groups led by billionaires in many cases would truly be affected if they took a loss for a year, other than having a lean year in an otherwise very profitable business.

In 10 days, we may simply view this report as owners attempting to gain leverage over players in negotiations, hoping they will ultimately cave and agree to further pay cuts. But what if players don’t cave?


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