Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says there is a “100%” chance of big-league ball this year.
Major League Baseball will make another proposal to start the pandemic-delayed season in empty ballparks, but Manfred vowed Wednesday to unilaterally order opening day if an agreement is not reached.
“I can tell you unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” he said.
Manfred insisted the chance of playing this year was “100%.”
The players’ association made its second proposal Tuesday, asking for an 89-game regular season and 100% of prorated salaries. MLB’s plan a day earlier was for a 76-game season, would guarantee 50% of prorated salaries, and hinge 25% in additional money on the postseason’s completion.
“It will be another significant move in the players’ direction in terms of the salary issue that has kept us apart,” Manfred said during an interview with ESPN before that network’s coverage of the amateur draft.
“We're hopeful that it will produce reciprocal movement from the players’ association, that we’ll see a number other than 100% on salary and some recognition that 89 games, given where we are in the calendar in the course of the pandemic is not realistic," he said.
MLB has threatened a shorter schedule if players insist on 100% of their prorated salaries. The union likely would file a grievance, contending a longer schedule was economically feasible and asking arbitrator Mark Irvings to award damages.
There has not been a big-league schedule of fewer than 80 games since 1879. Both MLB and the union have proposed expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to as many as 16 this year and next, but that enlarged postseason is contingent on a deal.
“I would prefer to negotiate a new agreement with the MLBPA that gets us more games and resolves the issues that have separated us amicably,” Manfred said. “But at the end of the day, we negotiated for the right in March to start the season on a number of games that we select in these particular circumstances. And if we have to, we’ll exercise that right.”
A March 26 agreement called for prorated salaries in exchange for $170 million in salary advances and a guarantee of service time even if no games were played.
Manfred wouldn't divulge when he would order a shorter schedule. MLB initially proposed 82 games and the union responded with 114. While players want to extend the postseason deep into November, teams fear a second wave of the coronavirus would jeopardize the postseason. The playoffs alone generate $787 million in broadcast revenue — before selling any games caused by an expansion.
“Each and every day that goes by, we lose the capacity to play at least one game, and that’s really the time pressure that’s significant at this point in time," Manfred said.
The players’ association declined to comment on Manfred’s remarks.
MLB claims each additional regular-season game in empty ballparks causes a $640,000 loss because 40% of revenue is tied to the gate. The union has disputed MLB's figures but claims it has not been given the data it needs to make a full evaluation.
Manfred told MLB Network the sides were “very, very close” to agreement on health protocols.