MLB Return Talks Put Players in Tough Spot

By , WFAN Sports Radio 66AM & 101.9 FM New York

You wish that this could be a simple exercise. Roll out the balls, bring back the players, mix in a few fans eventually, and the national pastime has returned. But nothing in a pandemic - nor baseball - nor "smoking gun" e-mails - is ever that easy.

The 67-page manifesto, known as the 2020 Operations Manual, has been issued. It covers what to do during the game, at the ballpark, travel, medical practices, spring training and everything in-between. Health and safety has to be the utmost priority, so let's just take testing, which will be thorough and stringent.

If there's a positive test, the player or person would be quarantined until they have 2 negative tests. There would also be contact tracing, and individuals coming in contact with the infected person would be immediately tested and get instant results. So MLB feels that a positive test doesn't necessarily mean a 14-day quarantine for the entire team.

My only question would be that everyone connected to the team would be in such close proximity anyway that it seems like if there is a positive test, you pretty much would have to test everybody else. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), albeit a much smaller operation than MLB, says it will shut down for 3 weeks if any player tests positive.

It's a daunting task, and there's lag time involved, and seemingly ever-growing circles of people and places. You can lessen risk, but you can't eradicate it.

The startup basics are in. An 82-game regional schedule, 30-man rosters, 20-player taxi squads, a universal DH, and an expanded postseason that the owners have to get to if they have any hope of cutting projected losses. Baseball would also like to have things done by the end of October for a couple of reasons - 1) to avoid a possible return of the Coronavirus in late fall and 2) to keep the 2021 season in line. If there should be no postseason because of Covid-19, the owners would lose their postseason TV rights fees.

The owners also want to play in as many home ballparks as possible for several reasons - the ability to salvage sponsorship revenue from in-stadium advertising and signage, major league amenities like trainers rooms, weight rooms and cameras for the players and support staff, and baseball wants to be able to televise games in multiple time zones.

The players are in a tough spot. Major League Baseball earned over $10 billion in revenues last season, the 17th consecutive year that MLB has set a new record for seasonal revenue. Meanwhile, player salaries have declined in each of the last 2 seasons. Yet public sentiment rarely falls in the players' favor. Owners are making more money than ever, and players' salaries are going down.

There is no game without the players, and they are the ones assuming the health risks. The players believed they had an agreement on salary - half-pay for half the games - but then the owners countered with revenue sharing. Oh yeah, THAT.

Mention revenue sharing to baseball players and they'll reply salary cap. In the NFL, players receive 48 percent of revenues. In the NHL, it's exactly 50 percent. NBA players receive between 49-51 percent of the league's expected revenue. But the MLBPA has always avoided revenue sharing like the plague, and has no intention of going there with new collective bargaining negotiations on the horizon after the 2021 season.

MLB has already claimed that teams will lose over $600,000 per game if they play with no fans in attendance unless players agree to cut their salaries even further. And Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that the 30 teams combined will lose $4 billion if there is no season at all. But super agent Scott Boras maintains that every club in baseball has gained at least $700 million and as much as $2 billion in equity over the last several years.

The MLBPA's problem with revenue sharing is basically that you can hide revenue. Almost all MLB teams are not publicly traded entities, meaning they don't have to disclose profits, losses, revenues, etc.. Many teams have been entering partnerships that involve equity, such as getting stakes in regional sports networks, another avenue to hide revenue.

What about the development of real estate - shops, restaurants, businesses - around the ballpark itself? And when MLB sold BAMtech to Disney, the players gained nothing from that transaction. So you can see why skepticism abounds when the words revenue sharing crop up.

As I said before, the players are in a tough spot.

Yes, they are assuming the health risk by going out to play. But look around, because the general public already has. The front line workers in our hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets, first responders, police, firemen and EMT's, are also at health risk while being paid a lot less than baseball players.

And on top of that, it certainly feels like if players don't take pay cuts now, then owners will assuredly pass along their losses over the following years, either by cutting payroll, spending less on free agency, or by playing hardball during the 2021 CBA negotiations.

Seems like players will pay - one way or another.