The reasons vary, from urgency to satisfaction to, er, culinary, but Twins players are making it clear they want Major League Baseball to accept their union leader Tony Clark’s challenge about the endangered 2020 season: “Tell us when and where.”
“We all are ready. #WhenAndWhere” pitcher Jose Berrios tweeted Tuesday. On his own Twitter feed, catcher Mitch Garver explained: “Had another good workout today. I’m on a streak of like 3 months. When should I be ready to step up to the plate @MLB?”
And Randy Dobnak is eager to pitch again soon because … well, better let him explain.
“My wife just made an egg sandwich using a hot dog bun,” he tweeted. “It’s time to get back to work, tell us when and where!! #LetTheKidsPlay”
But a tumultuous weekend of negotiation-by-hate-mail has made it clear that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has no intention of unilaterally imposing a schedule on his sport, as a March agreement with the players allows him to and as Clark dared him to Saturday — and even if he wants to, he might not be able to pull it off.
Should Manfred decide to abandon negotiations with the MLB Players Association and enact a schedule, presumably as brief as a mere 48 games, MLB owners would have to ratify his ruling by a three-quarters vote, or 23 of the 30 teams. And some owners, particularly those with high payrolls or low chances of contending, figure to object to spending money on such a misbegotten fraction of a season.
Indeed, according to a player agent quoted by The Athletic on Monday, “There are definitely more than eight owners who don’t want to play.”
Twins owner Jim Pohlad, who authorized the franchise’s biggest free-agent signing over the winter to augment a 101-win team he sensed could challenge for its first championship in 29 years, is not one of them.
“I hope [there’s a season], and I believe everybody hopes so. The players hope so and the 30 teams hope so,” Pohlad said on WCCO Radio on Tuesday. Negotiations “have probably not gone the best, from either side’s standpoint, and they need to get together.”
Even if Manfred can arm-twist his way into ratification by his side of prorated salaries — which the players have not wavered on — over a schedule of his choosing, it’s unlikely that the strategy of “tell us when and where” could ever become reality. No matter what, finding common ground with the players, rather than dictating to them, appears essential.
For one thing, MLB still needs to broker a deal over health and safety issues, a discussion made more complicated by the revelation that several players and team employees have tested positive for COVID-19. A 67-page MLB proposal on medical and social-distancing protocols was delivered to the players on May 15, and while players have raised a number of concerns, the policies have yet to be finalized.
Owners are also leery of the union’s oft-discussed option of returning to work as ordered, then asking an impartial arbitrator to rule that MLB has not acted in good faith, particularly in the earlier agreement’s charge to make their “best effort to play as many games as possible.” Fearing an expensive judgment, they asked the players to agree to waive any legal claims against MLB or face cancellation of the season, a demand Clark ridiculed Monday.
The union also asked for proof that owners are facing huge losses by playing games, and says MLB has refused to provide any financial documentation. Pohlad said the atmosphere between the two sides has become so toxic, “I’m not sure if [opening the books] would help the mistrust that has developed between the players and teams. Seeing documentation, I don’t know if it suddenly cures that. I don’t think it does.”
One more looming issue: The calendar.
Middle ground between the sides shrinks every day, because players earn their pay during the regular season, while the owners’ payoff, especially with no fans buying tickets, is in the postseason. Any last-minute deal to trade more games for an expanded playoffs becomes unworkable as the days go by, because a month of organizing and holding training camp will be necessary to start, and MLB insists that the season must end by Sept. 27 to avoid scrambling their TV partners’ schedules and risking a resurgence of the virus.
If that date is unmovable, negotiators have only a week or maybe two to salvage a 2020 season. When-and-where is fast approaching now-or-never.