Major League Baseball reportedly offered the MLB Players Association a deal for a 154 game schedule, at full pay, but with a delayed start to the season. This was first reported by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. The offer would also include expanded playoffs. Brown notes that the players are considering the plan. Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal reported that this offer would also include the designated hitter in the National League. Diamond’s reporting also notes that the expanded playoffs would mean 14 teams make the playoffs.
The players association is expected to reject the proposal according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
Maury Brown of Forbes is reporting that the pay would be for 162 games for the 154 game season, but if games were to be cancelled that the players would not be paid for those games – something that has not been the case in the past. This agreement, too, gives MLB the right to cancel games.
Original article continues below.
There’s a lot going on here, so let’s try to look at it step-by-step. A 154 game schedule isn’t that far off of from a regular, full season. Major League Baseball played a full 154-game season for a very long time before expanding things to 162 games.
With that said, the season would be delayed by a month. That pushes the start of the regular season to roughly May through, well, it’s not entirely clear. Brown’s tweet says that the regular season would be delayed by a month and extended by a week. The assumption is that the “extended by a week” would mean the first week of October, then you begin the playoffs.
A delayed start to the year almost guarantees that there will be more fans in the stands at games. The more vaccines that are distributed, the safer we all are, the less spread there is, the less risk there is for everyone, and the more things can safely open up. That leads to more money for the owners. It’ll lead to a better atmosphere for the players, too – though they, unlike the owners, don’t reap the financial rewards (at least immediately) from this aspect of the deal. But with more money coming in, that could lead to – in theory at least – more money willingly spent on players in the offseason (as long as we ignore that whole CBA negotiation thing that will likely drag out the offseason after 2021 as long as humanly possible).
Adding the designated hitter to the National League is something that the players, and the owners, both are in favor of. But as things go – it’s a bargaining chip that is being used by both sides to try and get something else that they want that the other side isn’t quite as happy about.
Let’s talk about the extended playoffs now. We saw it last year with the shortened season. Some people liked it, some people hated it, and some just didn’t have much of an opinion on it. In a shortened season, it made sense. There was less time to figure out who was the “best”. While the playoffs don’t always determine that, either, it gave a few extra teams a chance to show it could have been them.
Where this gets a bit messy is that we know that in the playoffs, that’s where MLB teams make a ton of money, while the players barely get any of it. The players in a typical playoff year get 60% of the ticket sale revenue for the minimum number of games in a series (in a 3-game series the players get 60% of the gate for the first two games, in a 7-game series they would get 60% of the gate for the first four games). The rest of the money – television contracts, and the remainder of the gate – goes to the owners. Playoff games are big tickets for television.
This is a situation where you have to ask what the players are getting out of the whole situation. They are already guaranteed their full salary for the 2021 season. Major League Baseball offering that changes nothing – it’s already guaranteed unless the nation locks down again. Expanding the playoffs, in the short term, without drastically changing the way the playoff revenue is divided up between the owners and the players, is not doing much to help the players financially.
In the long term, it may actually harm them. While this would only be a 1-year agreement, it would set precedent in future collective bargaining negotiations. If teams don’t have to fight as hard to make the playoffs, the incentive to try harder and in turn, spend more money to try and grab playoff spots is less. That’s likely to lead to lower salaries across the board.
We don’t have the details on whether or not MLB was willing to alter the financial landscape of the playoff revenues. If they are, and we just didn’t hear it, then maybe this is something that could make some sense for the players. But if it’s not a real difference in how that money is split up, it’s tough to see why the players would agree to a deal that basically gives them nothing extra, could possibly harm them in the future with regards to earnings, and gives the owners a big chunk of revenue in the short term that isn’t being shared.
It is also now being reported that the offered proposal would give Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball control over cancelling games if the MLBPA had agreed to this deal. On top of that, MLB actually asked the players to take a pay cut.
Editors note: Information has been added as more details have emerged about the offer that includes the designated hitter.