The MLBPA has rejected MLB’s recent proposal to reduce the 2021 schedule from 162 games to 154. What are the likely reasons behind the players’ association’s decision to not accept MLB’s offer?
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Within the past week, MLB sent letters to the MLBPA concerning proposed changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) for the 2021 season. On February 1, the MLBPA declined both proposals. What were the terms in the owners’ offer, and why did the MLBPA reject them? What did the proposals mean for the Toronto Blue Jays?
The MLBPA is arguably the most successful labour group in North American professional team sports. From its beginning in the mid-1960s, the MLBPA has helped secure an increased and significant portion of MLB’s revenue pie. The fight has been hard-fought, as evidenced by five players’ strikes and three owner-orchestrated lockouts.
There has not been a work stoppage since the 1994-1995 strike ended. However, according to most reports, the MLBPA and MLB do not trust each other. We saw their damaged relationship on display during the 2020 contract negotiations. It is essential to review those 2020 labour difficulties to understand why the MLBPA rejected the recent MLB proposals.
The 2020 Season
The March 26 Agreement
Soon after all North American professional sports leagues suspended play due to the pandemic, MLB and the MLBPA signed a March 26 agreement (the “Agreement”). That document was a supplement to the existing CBA that expires on December 1, 2021. The Agreement covered many issues such as service time, the amateur draft and advance pay. The Agreement also identified areas for which further discussion was contemplated, including health and safety protocols, postseason pools, and revenue sharing.
Furthermore, the Agreement required the Commissioner’s Office to propose a schedule “using best efforts” to play as many games as possible. The Commissioner agreed to take into account factors that included “the economic feasibility of various alternatives.” Additionally, after consultation with the MLBPA and other parties, the Agreement required the Commissioner to set the number of games for the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of many fans, MLB and the MLBPA took nearly three months to finalize a deal for the 2020 season. The main point of contention between the two parties was full pro-rata salaries for the players.
According to Eugene Freeman, a US-based labour lawyer, the Agreement’s pay section does not mention “economic feasibility.” The schedule section is where one would find the “economic feasibility” term. Therefore, the MLBPA argued throughout the post-March 26 negotiations that the players were entitled to their full per-game salary; the Commissioner sets the number of games. The owners countered that the economic feasibility condition did apply to pay. Total pro-rata wages were not workable for the number of games that the players wanted.
The two opposing views of full pro-rata salaries and economic feasibility played out during the March-June period. Every counteroffer from the players included total pro-rata salaries and as many games as possible. Each counter offer from the owners, except for the final proposal, contained less than full pro-rata salaries and fewer games than the MLBPA suggested. In the end, the final deal included MLB’s imposition of a 60-game schedule and total pro-rata wages for the players.
After the negotiations, both parties threatened to file grievances against the other. Ultimately, neither side made a grievance claim. However, the 2020 negotiations fueled the mistrust between MLB and the MLBPA.
MLB’s 2021 Proposals
MLB made two proposals to the MLBPA. The MLBPA received the first one on January 29 and the second on February 1. The critical elements of the first proposal are as follows:
- Spring Training, scheduled to start in February, would commence on March 22
- The start of the regular season would be delayed by approximately a month and would begin on April 28
- The 2021 campaign would end on October 10, which is one week later than currently planned.
- The players would be paid their full salary, based upon a 162-game schedule, but the league would only schedule 154 games.
- There would be 24 scheduled days off during the season, and each team would play 12 split doubleheaders.
- The number of teams eligible for the postseason would be 14, two fewer than 2020’s 16 but more than the ten, as stipulated in the CBA.
- Both leagues would have the designated-hitter rule.
- The Commissioner’s Office retains broad powers to cancel games due to natural disasters, government orders, and pandemics.
- The players would not receive pay for cancelled games.
The February 1 proposal reportedly contains wording that may alleviate MLBPA’s concern that the Commissioner has too much discretion to cancel games. MLB stated that the reason for the delayed start of Spring Training, and the season, was to give players and the general public more time to be vaccinated. Also, the delayed start and more vaccinations will allow more fans to attend games, which will increase gate receipts and other game-related revenues.
The MLBPA’s Reaction
Readers should look at the MLBPA’s rejection of MLB’s proposals from US-labour law and baseball-specific perspectives.
Eugene Freeman outlined the labour law considerations in a series of Tweets.
- The parties have an agreement, the CBA. It lays out all of the parties’ responsibilities, including the reporting dates for spring training, the start of the season, number of games, salary payment process, league rules, players’ playoff share, and all other matters.
- The duty to bargain is based on reciprocal requirements over mandatory subjects. Those compulsory subjects are all contained in the CBA.
- It is a permissive subject (meaning voluntary) to negotiate certain other things. One of those permissive subjects is reopening an existing agreement.
- The MLBPA has stated that it does not want to reopen the existing agreement, which is their right.
- Accordingly, the MLBPA did not counteroffer because they didn’t have to.
- Why would they reopen an agreement they are comfortable with, especially when it puts that agreement in peril?
The baseball-specific reasons for the MLBPA’s rejection of MLB’s proposals likely include the following:
- The proposals do not guarantee that the players will receive their 2021 pro-rata salaries for cancelled games. Given the MLBPA’s mistrust of MLB, it is understandable that the players are concerned.
- According to many reports, both the MLBPA and MLB want the universal designated hitter rule. Why should the MLBPA give up something, for example, an expanded postseason, in exchange for the DH rule that both parties want?
- The players are concerned about injury risk. Typically, a 162-game schedule spans 187 days. Under MLB’s proposals, the 154 games will occur over 166 days.
- MLB’s proposals included 12 doubleheaders, which increases the number of days off from 12 (166 less 154) to 24 and will provide rest opportunities similar to a typical season. However, doubleheaders increase fatigue, which increases the risk of injury.
The Blue Jays – A Fan’s Perspective
If the MLBPA had accepted MLB’s proposal, the Toronto Blue Jays would be well-positioned to excel in that situation. Kirby Yates, Tyler Chatwood, and Steven Matz have deepened the Blue Jays pitching staff, a competitive advantage, mainly because there are so many scheduled doubleheaders. Furthermore, Toronto’s free-agent signings of George Springer and Marcus Semien have improved the Blue Jays’ overall quality. Better quality players allow a team to better cope with injuries. Also, the Blue Jays are a playoff contender, and 14 playoff slots are better than the ten currently called for in the CBA.
Another benefit of MLB’s proposal is that it increases the probability of the Toronto Blue Jays playing games in the Rogers Centre in 2021. Likely, there will not be games at the Rogers Centre until at least Canada Day. By delaying the start of the season by a month and adding a week in the end, Blue Jays fans may have been able to see their favourite team at home on a more frequent basis.
However, the MLBPA’s rejection of MLB’s proposals means that the 2021 season will start as scheduled. Blue Jays fans should be happy not to wait any longer to see the Jays play.
The last word
On February 1, the MLBPA rejected MLB’s proposal to amend the CBA. The MLBPA declined the offer for many reasons, including an agreement for the 2021 season already exists. Under the CBA, Spring Training and the 2021 season are set to begin as scheduled, which should excite the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.