Talks to start the Major League Baseball season amid the pandemic made some progress this week. Team owners have signed off on a plan that they will present to the player’s union. It calls for a shortened 82-game season beginning Fourth of July weekend.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says the details of this deal set the stage for a big battle over money.
The first steps of a salary cap?
The 162-game season, which was set to start on March 26, was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the terms of an agreement reached in March, MLB players received a $170 million salary advance. In exchange, the union agreed not to challenge the loss of their 2020 salaries and agreed to be paid only for the games they play.
The deal approved by owners this week calls for a 50-50 split of revenue from the 2020 season, which Pluto says is a form of a salary cap.
"The owners want a salary cap; the players don't want one. Salary caps help middle-market teams. In the NFL, you don't have the Dallas Cowboys spending three times as much as the Cleveland Browns. But you will have the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox spending three times as much as the Cleveland Indians. A salary cap keeps everyone within about a 25% range."
Pluto is in favor of a baseball salary cap but not done this way.
"That should be done in a regular labor negotiation which is supposed to start next year, not in the middle of a crisis."
Hitting the panic button
Pluto says owners are likely starting to panic about revenue loss.
"Right now, they've had zero income coming in. The only way to grab some money is to get the thing on TV. And that should be the goal. It needs to get itself back in the eyes of the fans, because they're going to want to sell tickets next year."
He thinks players should play 80 games but perhaps agree to be paid for 60. "We can call it a furlough. How many of us are getting furloughs? How many of us are getting pay cuts?"
Returning to the field safely
Pluto believes baseball is positioned to return and that it can be done safely.
"The players have raised some concerns that there's risk coming back to work. What if you work at Walmart? Or Amazon? Or a nursing home? Or how about being a first responder? There are people wandering all over the place putting themselves at risk. And most of them are not highly tuned, young professional athletes."
Pluto says there should be exceptions for at-risk players like Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who recovered from a form of leukemia last year.
And he says the plan is made for television. "You could play these things anywhere. You could hold them in spring training venues, AAA parks. Is it going to be inconvenient for players? It's inconvenient for all of us. It's just too bad most of us aren't making millions of dollars to be inconvenienced."
"I still think they gotta play. Because some of these major league guys do want to be paid. The need to have games to sell tickets for next year. But with these guys and the way negotiations have gone in the past, who knows what they'll do?"