The battle cry from the players was “When and Where”; Manfred gave them that. Now “Whoa and What”!

MLB commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. and MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark; Photo by Alex Trautwig/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images

Major League Baseball players created a hashtag response of #WhenAndWhere that they would show up to play as soon as a date was given to play ball by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. With a two-day secret meeting between Manfred and MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark set in Arizona, the two could work face-to-face to resolve the impasse of weeks of leaked information that only added to the virulence in this dispute to get baseball back to work. A work stoppage during Spring Training was caused by a State of Emergency amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and MLB shutdown.

Of course details of this secret meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday leaked to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman that the sides met and had the framework of an agreement then news broke later in the day that some players were balking at the terms. 

When and where were replaced by whoa and what and wait just a minute. What leaked was a 60 day regular season with a three week “Summer Training” to start next week and a regular season start date of July 19th or 20th according to Ken Rosenthal. There would be designated hitters, expanding 16-team playoffs, and a creative geographically based game schedule over 70 calendar days. MLB would forgive roughly $33 million of the money they had already paid out in salaries to Major Leaguers and everything seemed set with the When and Where until the WHOAAAA not so fast came from unnamed players.

Who knows where things stand now with players looking for additional concessions per Buster Olney of ESPN. Baseball already gave the players full proration on games that will be played. If they play 60 games they will be paid for 60 games as a function of a 162 season. That is just under 40% which means Max Scherzer would get paid under $12 million to play in 60 games and any requisite postseason games for which he would earn a players’ share of the postseason till.

“There are many on the players’ side who think there should be greater owner concessions than 60 games at full pay, and additionally, some other long-term concessions that can help the players beyond this season. Some on players’ side wondering: Isn’t there more than this?”, Olney wrote.

If you read any of Jayson Stark’s article in The Athletic titled “If you think Major League Baseball is ugly now …” Stark goes into great detail and pulls some amazing quotes from team officials to agents to players anonymously.

“The upside of a deal, said one longtime agent, is the $100 million or so that baseball would rake in from expanding the postseason,” Stark wrote.

Do the math. Adding $100 million in revenue divided by 30 teams is less than half the salary the Nats paid Trevor Rosenthal last year to appear in just 12 games in which they got in return a 22.74 ERA and an infinity ERA through April 9th of last year. $3.33 million per team less any share to the players is probably less than last month’s salaries to front office and operations staff at reduced rates. One team official told Stark it is bleak and that multiple people believe salary dumps could happen once an agreement is reached.

“Multiple executives predicted we’d see financially hurting clubs try to unload as many big contracts as they could – a process that might even begin as soon as Spring Training 2.0 this year, assuming there is a Spring Training 2.0.

One exec’s take: “There’s no question you’ll see teams try to unload money. But they might have no one to unload them to” – because, theoretically, even the big-market teams will be reeling after losing hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020 revenues.”

If things really are this dire and they might be, why didn’t teams willfully share their P & L’s with the media at the very least. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said earlier in the month that the losses would be “biblical” as in biblical proportions.

“You start with the fact that the industry is going to lose $3 (billion) or $4 (billion) or $5 billion (this year),” a small market team official said to Stark. “That’s a lot of money to lose. It’s not something you can cover in the short term. So how long does it take to recover? Is that a year? Two years? Three years? I have no idea. Now add the backdrop of a work stoppage.

“I don’t mean to sound like I’m the voice of despair, but if we have a work stoppage, I don’t see how 10 to 12 teams get through it. I mean they don’t get out the other side. I’m talking about, they file for bankruptcy. I could even see bankruptcy for the league, which could mean you’d have player contracts getting voided. I don’t think that’s off the table if there’s a work stoppage.

“I know it sounds like hyperbole,” he said, finally, “but this year we’re going to lose $3-5 billion. And we know 2021 will not be a normal year. So if we don’t play in 2022, that’s catastrophic.”

What sounds like “crazy” talk was something we probably all thought about a pandemic killing millions worldwide and shutting down towns, cities, states, and countries. Bankruptcy usually doesn’t happen when you have a lot of equity in your asset, but never say never.

Doom and gloom could be years before we find our normal. But sure, when and where, and show me the damn money. When one side squeezes too hard, it sometimes just deflates the mechanism. The MLBPA has the upper hand in this fight, and they might have squeezed too hard on that goose that lays the golden eggs. Everything needs a long view and when guys like Scherzer hit retirement in a few years he better hope that the Nats don’t go bankrupt as he has $105 million sitting in deferrals. He would be a creditor in a bankruptcy hearing, and those are never pretty. Ask your local banker about those hearings when they try to collect from a corporation they lent money too.

Hopefully the two sides come to an agreement, but we once again found out that the simplest message of #WhenAndWhere was really about “Show me more money”. Sad isn’t it.



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