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MLB will impose a schedule; baseball season likely to start in late July

2019 Cardinals spring training

Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller (left) talks to starter Adam Wainwright before a spring training workout in Jupiter, Fla. Miller is a member of the players' union executive committee. Photo by Christian Gooden,

Whether or not Major League Baseball can make it through a vastly reduced schedule without coronavirus interruption remains to be seen. But, at least, by sometime Tuesday, there finally could be the framework of a schedule more than 100 games lighter from the normal 162-game slate and the shortest in the past two centuries.

There is no real agreement. But perhaps there is little or no more tedious negotiating either concerning this season. And there will be a season. Of sorts.

Several hours after the Major League Players’ Association announced Monday evening it had turned down, by a 33-5 count, a proposal which called for a 60-game schedule, among other items, Major League Baseball said the owners had voted unanimously to execute a clause in a March 26 agreement that entitled commissioner Rob Manfred to establish a schedule. That schedule is reported, by several sources, to be 60 games at prorated salary for the players — but without some of the potential perks.

A statement from Major League Baseball said that MLB has asked the players’ association to respond by 4 p.m. Tuesday as to whether the players would be able to report to summer training camps by next Wednesday, July 1. MLB also wanted the players’ association to sign off on the operating manual containing the health and safety protocols. If both sides are on board with those matters, the season could begin the weekend of July 24.

The Cardinals’ schedule, to cut down on travel concerns, will be only against teams in both the National League and American League Central divisions. 

Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller, a prominent member of the players’ executive committee, told the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold, “We’ve consistently asked to get back to playing as soon as possible and it appears that time is near. I personally can’t wait to get up to St. Louis (he lives in Tampa, Florida) and be with my teammates and staff again.”

MLB, in its release, made it a point of listing what the players were missing out on by not taking the latest offer, such as universal designated hitter for two years, a guaranteed $25 million playoff pool for this year and $33 million in forgiven salary advances, for players at the bottom of the salary scale. 

“Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development,” the MLB statement said. “The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new postseason format. And, it offered players significant benefits.”

As a byproduct of a mandated schedule, the players’ union undoubtedly will file a grievance that the owners had negotiated in bad faith and then the owners likely would file one similarly arguing that the players had negotiated in bad faith.

But Cincinnati righthander Trevor Bauer, who had made some caustic comments about ownership previously, seemed to be taking a much more neutral approach and speaking for the American public when he tweeted, “It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved? Covid 19 already presented a lose, lose, lose situation and we’ve somehow found a way to make it worse. Incredible.

“The fans want baseball. The vast majority of players want baseball. Most owners want baseball. Seems like everyone is in agreement yet we have no agreement and no baseball. How?!”

Looking ahead to certain acrimony as the two sides will have to negotiate a contract after the five-year Basic Agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021, Bauer tweeted, “The time for that fight is after the ‘21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. . . we’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months. (What) kind of sense does that make?”

With the collapse of any negotiated deal, the postseason playoff field will remain at 10 teams, rather than 16 for this season and the universal designated hitter will be out for 2021, meaning National League fans may get another year of watching their pitchers hit and more managerial strategy. But, also some proposed gimmicks for 2020 and 2021 will be scrapped, such as each team starting an extra inning with a runner at second base and a re-entry rule for players in extra innings.

There have been proposals and counter proposals, with the union’s latest asking for 70 games in which the players would be paid on a prorated basis, with a $50 million playoff pool, as opposed to the $25 million the owners offered. The non-agreement means that players will not be paid anything more than meal money during this postseason.

Besides the possibility of the players filing a grievance, the impasse could lead to some star players choosing not to participate this season because of the ill will and it will lead to decidedly less playoff money because of the extra tier of games that won’t be played. It is unlikely that many games will be played in front of crowds of substance, eating into potential gate receipts.

And, with the news that the Orlando women’s professional soccer team had to opt out of a season-ending tournament in Utah because six of its players and some of its staff had tested positive for the coronavirus, there is wonder if baseball or any of the other pro sports will be able to finish what they have started.

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