If baseball players don’t trust the owners as they try to hammer out a deal that will get a 2020 season started by early July, what else is new?
But players past and present say those well-earned trust issues are putting players disproportionately in a negative light as talks continue amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 90,000 Americans.
“I think the players are in a tough spot,” former Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot said on the Cubs Talk podcast on NBC Sports Chicago. “No matter what happens with this and how it plays out … if [players] don't concede and stand their ground, like they should, then they come out looking like the bad guys.”
Theriot, a fan favorite and respected clubhouse presence during the Cubs’ 2007-08 playoff seasons, last played in 2012, when he won a World Series ring with the Giants (a year after winning a ring with the Cardinals).
But even now, as he trains and coaches young players, the ripple effects of Major League Baseball’s decisions during the pandemic are being felt at his Traction Sports Performance facility in Baton Rouge, La. — in particular, when it comes to the decision to shorten the annual 40-round draft to five rounds this year with $20,000 limits on bonuses for undrafted players. He estimates he has at least a few college players who will go undrafted despite being top-10-caliber players.
“I think it’s very unfortunate right now,” Theriot said. “I personally think because of the state of our world today you’re seeing some people taking advantage of the situation. I know the owners never wanted as many rounds in the draft. They never wanted as many minor-league teams as they had in the past. But that’s the way everything was set up.
“Some people are getting taken advantage of a little bit, I think, and I just hope that the players stand their ground and kind of stick to their guns for the guys coming up after them.”
That’s why there’s a collective bargaining agreement, said Theriot.
He also is among the chorus of current and former players who point out any MLB claims of losses or hardships are impossible to take at face value because owners have never fully opened their books to the players.
Never mind the fact that the union says the deal struck in March with MLB over pro-rated salaries in a shortened season settled the matter then — while MLB invokes a “financial feasibility” clause over the additional losses it expects to suffer with no fans allowed in stadiums.
“It’s a tough spot for baseball. And I get it,” he said of the business decisions involved on both sides. “But I hope the players stand their ground.”
The health-risk factors for players, managers, coaches and other essential personnel during any 2020 startup are as big a part of the equation as simple dollars and cents. Even if a deal is reached on all terms — health-related and financial — commissioner Rob Manfred told CNN no player will be forced to play.
That could raise another list of issues regarding a given player’s contract if he chooses to sit out for health reasons.
“Look, it’s something we’ve never done before, never been through,” Theriot said. “But America needs baseball. America needs these guys to go out and play in a safe, responsible environment, and I have all the faith in the world it will happen.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.