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MLB Players Distrust of Owners Hinders Negotiations

Photo by John Bazemore/AP

When the players called the sliding-scale proposal offered by the owners “extremely disappointing”, the first reaction was to assume that this was based on some sort of greed factor. However, a recent tweet by Washington Nationals star pitcher Max Scherzer sheds light on what could be the biggest reason the players are not in favor of taking huge pay cuts, which is they do not believe the owners are as bad off as they are proclaiming.

Scherzer is among several players to weigh in publicly on MLB’s proposal to start the delayed 2020 season. Milwaukee pitcher Brett Anderson and New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman also criticized the proposal on social media Tuesday.

Jeff Passan, appearing on ESPN‘s Get Up show, said of the statement: “When you have a voice like Max Scherzer, a guy who is recognized as being really intelligent, that puts some weight and heft behind the statement”. Passan also added that “It really illustrates how angry the players are about the (owners) proposal.”

One unidentified agent told the Athletic that “It’s such a shame there is so much distrust on both sides that we can’t be pragmatic adults. There’s no way MLB would think that proposal would get a favorable response from the players. It’s ‘right back at you, screw you.’ And where are we? They’re playing a pretty dangerous game of chicken.”

The owners contend that during this difficult time due to the pandemic, other companies in other industries are asking their highest earners to sacrifice for those who make less, and major-league clubs and the commissioner’s office are taking a similar approach with non-playing employees. The union disagrees stating that MLB players are not in the same boat. They claim that the players, by establishing performance and accumulating service time, earn the right to higher salaries through defined mechanisms such as salary arbitration and free agency.

The players also believe that the earlier acceptance of prorated salaries, which had already had agreed to a significant reduction that would amount to almost 50 percent under the league’s proposed 82-game schedule, should be in effect. This basically means that the players do not accept as truth the owners’ claim that paying prorated salaries with no fans in attendance is not economically feasible.

Scherzer and others in the MLBPA want the owners to open their books in order to justify further cuts. If owners refuse to do that, the players will probably not budge on pay. The union has wanted this for years, especially in previous negotiations that involved collective bargaining, something that will have to occur in 2021.

Adding to this, are the Atlanta Braves, who are owned by Liberty Media, a publicly-owned corporation that is required to share their financial information every quarter. This means that the Braves are one of the few major professional sports teams which report reliable profit numbers. So when the union sees that the Braves’ revenue last year totaled $476 million, up 8 percent from 2018, they are not all that sympathetic to the owners claiming they are in financial distress.

Part of the issue why no side wants to budge is they both know that they are under a public relations microscope. Both players and owners remain convinced that in a climate where most Americans are either losing jobs or seeing their pay reduced, they think that the other side will not give in. The owners publically putting out that they are in financial distress will force the players to take the pay cuts, and if they don’t, the players will be the bad guys. The players do understand they will need to make other concessions in order to begin a season that they very much want to play.

Many agents have gone public by saying that the owners won’t cancel the season on what amounts to small additional cuts. As one agent stated, “$150 million payroll. $75 million pro-rata. They want it where — $50 million? $60 million? They’re not walking over that.”




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