MLB's revenue-sharing demand may stop baseball talks before they get started

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Posted at 9:15 PM, May 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-11 21:26:57-04

The last time baseball owners proposed revenue sharing or a salary cap, the players union went on strike in August 1994 with the Reds in first place in the NL Central.

When both sides dug in their heels and the strike continued with no end in sight, MLB canceled the World Series, and the strike went on for almost eight months, delaying the start of the following season.

That should tell you that negotiations to kick-start the 2020 baseball season in July under a new owners’ plan revealed Monday may not get very far.

When the two sides meet Tuesday, owners will propose that players receive the percentage of their 2020 salaries based on a 50-50 split of revenues MLB receives during the regular season and postseason.

But baseball players have by far the most power union in pro sports, and they have refused to consider even the frameworks for the type of revenue splits that have been agreed to in the NFL, NBA and NHL.

“These concepts are beyond the spectrum of what players have both fought for and derived from the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) from inception," said Scott Boras, the sport’s best-known and most powerful agent. "Salary caps, methodologies like this, are something far afield from our working relationship with Major League Baseball ... You certainly know why they (owners) would suggest it.”

Owners may think they can get players to agree by expanding active rosters from 26 to around 30 and adding the DH in the National League. With minor leagues shuttered, there likely would be the addition of about 20 players per club akin to the NFL’s practice squad.

But players won’t be swayed, long-time baseball people say, even if it means going a whole year without a paycheck.

“If you do anything that resembles a cap, that smells like a cap, you’ve given too much,” said former A’s ace Dave Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner who is now an agent and spent two years as general manager of the Diamondbacks.

“A salary cap has been a non-starter for the players as long as I’ve been in baseball,” said David Samson, president of the Expos and Marlins from 2002-17. “I think when MLB is proposing a revenue split, it is with the full knowledge that the players’ union will automatically reject that.”

And that’s not the only thing blocking the owners’ plan for an 82-game season. While there wouldn’t be fans in the ballparks, there’s still the matter of complying with government orders and keeping players and their families safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll see where we will be in July,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose state is the home of five MLB clubs and who has talked with baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. “We certainly look forward to Major League Baseball and all sports resuming. But again, the question is when and that will be determined on the basis of public health and public safety and the spread of this virus.”

Assuming there would be fans in the ballparks when the season started, players and teams agreed to a deal on March 26 that called for each player to receive a portion of their 2020 salary based on what percentage of a 162-game schedule is played. Under that deal, if no season is played, each player would receive 2020 service time matching what the player earned in 2019.

The March 26 deal is contingent on there being no restrictions on mass gatherings at the federal, state, city and local level; no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada; and that Manfred, after consulting with union and medical expects, determines there is no risk to playing in front of fans at regular-season ballparks.

Players and teams committed to “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate neutral sites.”

Manfred has said about 40% of MLB revenue is tied to gate, including concessions, parking, ballpark advertising, luxury suites and programs.

Union officials and players cited the March 26 agreement as setting economic terms and say they have no inclination for additional cuts.

In addition, some players are more interested in medical protocols and testing designed to detect and protect them from the new coronavirus. The proposal will detail the plan for dealing with players and staff who test positive.

“Bear with me, but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season,” Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle tweeted Monday. “What’s the plan to ethically acquire enough tests? ... What’s the protocol if a player, staff member, or worker contracts the virus?”