Nearly three months of rancorous negotiations between Major League Baseball’s players and the owners of its 30 teams landed on Monday in the same place they started: without an agreement on how to play the season.
The players’ union overwhelmingly rejected M.L.B.’s proposal for a 60-game season at full prorated salaries on Monday, essentially daring Commissioner Rob Manfred to implement a plan on his own, likely setting up months of legal jousting that could threaten future seasons.
Manfred was expected to make an announcement on Monday night, though perhaps not to set a schedule. The longer he waits, the fewer games can be scheduled, because owners are determined to end the regular season by Sept. 27.
The owners have continually pushed for a shorter schedule because they would lose revenue by staging regular-season games without fans in attendance while the pandemic continues, and players have not budged from their demand for full prorated pay. The players’ last proposal was for 70 games, and the owners would not consider it.
Whatever schedule Manfred imposes, the union would seem likely to file a grievance seeking substantial payouts to players, on the grounds that the league negotiated in bad faith. The union would have had to drop its right to litigation as a condition of the proposal it rejected on Monday. Several reports said that of the 38 voters — one representative from each team, plus the eight members of the players’ executive subcommittee — only five supported the owners’ plan.
“The full Board reaffirmed the players’ eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible,” the union said in a statement. “To that end we anticipate finalizing a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols with Major League Baseball in the coming days, and we await word from the league on the resumption of spring training camps and a proposed 2020 schedule.”
Trevor Bauer, the outspoken Cincinnati Reds pitcher, expressed the exasperation felt by some on both sides of the negotiations in a tweet Monday evening, writing, “It’s absolute death for this industry to keep acting as it has been. Both sides. We’re driving the bus straight off a cliff. How is this good for anyone involved?”
The league gave the players a 67-page manual on health and safety provisions last month, but the union has not agreed to it. M.L.B. shut down all teams’ spring training complexes over the weekend for extensive cleaning after players on several teams — including five members of the Philadelphia Phillies — tested positive for the coronavirus. Teams would train at their home ballparks instead of their complexes in Florida and Arizona before the season begins.
The backdrop of the negotiations has been a return-to-play agreement negotiated in March that the sides have interpreted in vastly different ways. The players agreed to forgo their salaries until games began in exchange for a full year of service time in the event no season was held.
But Manfred expected further salary concessions for a season played without fans in the stands, and the union — long skeptical of owners crying poor — has not budged, wary of setting a precedent that would weaken them in the next collective bargaining agreement.
The players believe the existing C.B.A., which expires in December 2021, is far too favorable to management. Owners seem unlikely to spend lavishly on free agents this off-season, and could try to flood the market by letting go of many players eligible for salary arbitration.
The combined impact of all these factors — the failed negotiations of the last three months, a potentially looming depressed free-agent market, the union’s resolve to gain ground in the next C.B.A., and the mutual distrust between Manfred and the players — makes for an ominous landscape for baseball’s near future.