In what could be a final effort to launch a 2020 major league season, owners Wednesday presented their first proposal that includes full prorated salaries for players.
If the two sides can reach agreement on the number of games played this season, including an expanded postseason, the major hurdles in negotiations would appear to have been resolved, and an agreement could be in place shortly.
The MLB proposal calls for 60 games, plus a 16-team playoff field, with a season starting July 19 or 20. The union is expected to seek a longer season.
As of Wednesday morning, however, a person familiar with the matter cautioned there was "no agreement, even in principle."
The proposal followed a face-to-face meeting between commissioner Rob Manfred and players' union chief Tony Clark on Tuesday. The meeting was held at Manfred's request, and Manfred now is expected to try to forge consensus among owners. As of Tuesday, the Athletic had reported at least eight owners might prefer not to play at all this season - and because 75% of the 30 owners must vote in favor of a proposal to approve it, eight votes would kill it.
In three earlier proposals, owners insisted upon a pay cut below prorated salaries, arguing that players were obligated to take less money since owners would make less money on games played without fans. But the March 26 agreement did not require that, and players held firm.
On Saturday, the union rejected the owners' third offer, saying further negotiation would be "futile" and demanding that owners "tell us when and where" to report for work. The March 26 agreement authorized Manfred to dictate the number of games, and a 48-game season was referenced in correspondence between the league office and the players' union.
However, after owners met via conference call Monday, they prioritized a negotiated settlement over the imposition of a season, in part because they feared players would respond with a grievance that could have made the owners vulnerable to potential liability in the range of $1 billion. It is unclear whether the grievance issue was addressed in the offer Wednesday.
Manfred, the commissioner, and Clark, the executive director of the players' union, had appeared to take a back seat last week as the lead negotiator for each side traded nasty letters.
But, in the same interview Monday in which Manfred retreated from his prediction that the chances of a 2020 season were 100%, he also said something that owners to that point had not proposed: "common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players full prorated salary." On Tuesday, New York Yankees president Randy Levine, who previously had insisted that the agreement required players to discount their salaries, said: "Under the March 26 agreement, the commissioner has the right to schedule the games as long as the players are paid pro rata."
That set the stage for the negotiators to step aside, for Manfred and Clark to meet Tuesday, and for the proposal Wednesday that could get a long-delayed season off the ground, with players reporting to a second spring training as soon as next week.
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