MLBPA votes against deal, giving Rob Manfred no choice but to set a schedule

The torturous, back-and-forth negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Players Association finally came to an end on Monday, and not in a way that anyone was hoping for.

The MLBPA subcommittee voted 33-5 on Monday against the owner’s proposal for a 60-game season with full prorated salaries. That offer also included expanded playoffs for both this season and 2021, as well as a universal DH.

Now the fate of the 2020 season is firmly in commissioner Rob Manfred’s hands, and he won’t take long to make a decision.

The MLB 2020 season is about to be set by commissioner Rob Manfred

Bob Nightengale of USA Today is reporting that Manfred will implement a 60-game season starting on July 29, although no official announcement has been made. Manfred has the authority to unilaterally enact a schedule under the March 26 agreement. He was hesitant to do so, however, and exhausted all options in negotiations with the players in order to avoid the union filing a grievance potentially worth more than $1 billion.

Players were asked to give up that legal right in the owner’s proposal, something they were vehemently opposed to doing. With Manfred imposing a schedule on them, several agents have said some players will choose not to play. Upcoming free agents like Mookie Betts will have to decide whether playing a 60-game season and potentially risking injury is even worth it.

There was some hope the two sides would be able to bridge their weeks-long divide when Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark met in Arizona last week. The owners believed they had a deal for 60 games; the players came back with a 70-game offer, which was quickly and resoundingly rejected.

Agreeing on finances was supposed to be the easy part. With no deal, there won’t be expanded playoffs this season, and there won’t be a universal DH. But now comes what should’ve been the focus of both sides all along: how to keep the players safe while playing through a pandemic.

Health issues still to be decided

The COVID-19 virus reminded the league that it’s the real threat last week when three clubs had to close their Spring Training facilities. MLB reacted by shutting down all the sites for deep cleaning and preventing any player or staff member from accessing them without a negative test. Forty players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.

The plan is for each club to train and play in their home ballparks, but with each state having different guidelines that might not be feasible in every city. Questions are still on the table: how often will players be tested? What happens if a player tests positive? What social distancing measures will be in effect? Will the league have to implement a bubble-like atmosphere like the NBA?

These concerns were overshadowed in the past few weeks by an interminable dispute over money. The union said in a statement following the Monday vote that the players are still willing to work with the league on safety protocols.

“The MLBPA Executive Board met multiple times in recent days to assess the status of our efforts to resume the 2020 season,” the statement reads. “Earlier this evening, the full Board reaffirmed the players’ eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible. To that end we anticipate finalizing a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols with Major League Baseball in the coming days, and we await word from the league on the resumption of spring training camps and a proposed 2020 schedule.”

A resolution to the labor issues that were revealed during these tumultuous negotiations is going to have to wait. The next two years before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires are going to be laborious, with neither side willing to give an inch to the other. Until then, it’s at least game on for the 2020 season for now.

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