The first thing I thought when I saw Rob Manfred pandering to Anderson Cooper & Sanjay Gupta’s Coronavirus interrogation on CNN is wow Major League Baseball is desperate. With billions of dollars on the line, MLB has no choice but to move forward. Could the season be cancelled since it’s already two months delayed? Yes, but I think MLB is doing everything in its power to move forward; from funding its own lab with expedited testing (that must be a fortune), to its estimated 70 page safety protocol packet, Manfred admitted he can’t control everything but it seems to MLB the risks are worth the financial reward.
For players like Blake Snell, not so much. It amazes me that there are actually baseball columnists ripping on Snell who have the audacity to say players are not in danger. Bull. Players are putting themselves and their families at risk but, like with everything else, it’s a balancing act of variables. If some are comfortable with the hefty safety protocols in place, more power to them. But there are certainly risks. Manfred told CNN that if someone contracts COVID-19, MLB will trace and test but not force mandatory 14-day quarantines, & feels confident that the new 24-hour tests, though fraught with false negatives, are sufficient. And maybe MLB doesn't need the 14-day quarantine given these medical advancements, but the fact remains if someone contracts COVID, the press will feed, and the fear will be fueled among players.
It took one Utah Jazz player to infect multiple people. Before we knew it the NBA was shut down and several Nets players, including Kevin Durant had contracted the virus. If the virus spreads, baseball is not only going to be shut down but could lose more money in the face of lawsuits, especially if someone dies. MLB will probably make players sign waivers, which just feels wholly unethical at this point, since the league is moving full force ahead solely because of finances in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Each player has to decide if X amount of money for this season will sustain his family in the event of a worst case scenario.
But the fact that MLB is going to such great lengths to start the season illustrates the bargaining power that MLBPA has. With the potential livelihood of the league and/or teams on the line, the MLBPA has the power. And yes, it can and should use that power to get concessions for the new CBA, but it should also stand up for the players rights to get paid, at least on a pro-rated basis. The contracts are simple, you play, you get paid. The league adds more playoff games, you get paid for those too. To ask players to accept a rev share model where they split profits is ludicrous. They are employees not owners. Why should they shoulder the “risk of doing business,” so that MLB can force them to employ club losses? In subsequent years the league and clubs will go on and enjoy profit increases and the sucker players absorbed this down year for them. What a deal for clubs, totally unfair for players.
The Uniform model player contract has a provision that says the clubs and players may agree to defer salary compensation to subsequent seasons. There’s the answer. If the clubs can’t pay immediately, defer some of their salaries, but don’t rob the players of their contractually agreed upon pay if they show up in the worst of times and put their lives on the line. Whether there are fans in the stands or not is really of no consequence, clubs and the league should have had a contingency plan with reserves for national emergencies, especially since there is a provision in the CBA anticipating it and since it already happened once before in 1918.
Employees are not and should not be expected to incur business risk or loss and step into the shoes of an owner. Plain and simple. Some say, well what if the commissioner just exercises his right to cancel the season under the national emergency provision of the CBA? And yes, he very well could, and players would not get paid for the season. But what’s fair is fair. You play, you get paid your salary, you don’t play you don’t get paid. But what’s happening is that MLB is desperate to commence the season because of the losses on the line and they are using the threat of canceling the season to induce players to psychologically think ‘well something is better than nothing,’ so that they will agree to rev share and that’s just unethical coercion in my book. Another ploy to pressure players is the threat that clubs won't have the money in the off season to meet salary demands for free agents, driving down their fair market value and influencing the future team-building potential of the clubs. Again, not players problems. Defer the salaries but don't cheat them.
MLB, you are either canceling the season or you are paying the agreed upon prorated salaries. Don’t use the threat of one to gain bargaining advantage in a negotiation that centers around players risking their lives just so you can get them to share in your losses when the CBA and player contracts never anticipated such an outcome. MLB is using the legal force of its contracts for its own advantage but trying to rewrite those contracts, for its own advantage, at the same time. The MLBPA’s stipulation, which has it agreeing to potential compromises based on how many fans show up, is also an unnecessary assumption of the burden of business in an environment that players are not responsible for.
As I said, the owners and league will go on in subsequent years and make increased profits and the players will be left carrying their load and no CBA concessions will be that monumental to make up for it. As of now, players are contractually guaranteed their salaries based on games played. You play, you get paid for that game. In order to change this, and adopt an alternative model, rev share or otherwise, MLB will need players to sign authorizations essentially modifying their contractual rights. Don’t sign. The MLBPA needs to toughen up, and stop this player manipulation. Right now MLBPA is just weak and MLB is just trying to hoodwink the players to compensate for its financial losses and poor planning.