MLB

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts 'optimistic' 2020 MLB season will happen

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts 'optimistic' 2020 MLB season will happen

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts expressed confidence MLB and the players union will come to terms for a 2020 season despite his suggestion some teams might lose more money playing even a short season than by not playing at all.

"I'm pretty optimistic we'll get games back on the field," Ricketts told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers on Tuesday. "I have full faith and confidence in the commissioner. How we get there is yet to be written, but I'm pretty sure we'll get there."

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Ricketts isn’t the only owner to suggest in recent weeks it makes more financial sense to not play this season. The players are seeking their full prorated salaries, which they agreed to take in March. The owners, however, have cited a clause in that agreement where they can reopen negotiations if games are played without fans. That is the expectation for most of the season (should the two sides come to terms) due to the coronavirus.

Ricketts said MLB owners aren’t looking at not playing, however, echoing comments he made on CNBC last week stating the Cubs “definitely” would rather play.

"There are scenarios where not playing at all can be a better financial option, but we're not looking at that," Ricketts told Rogers. "We want to play. We want to get back on the field. ... I'm not aware of any owners that don't want to play. 

“We just want to get back on the field in a way that doesn't make this season financially worse for us."

The league sent the union its financial proposal for 2020 last Tuesday, and the players countered with a proposal on Sunday to play 114 games compared to the owners’ 82-game plan. The aforementioned March agreement allows the league to mandate a shorter season if it sees fit.

RELATED: How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Monday MLB could propose something along the lines of a 50-60 game season in which they’d pay players prorated salaries. That would still represent a pay cut for the players, however. In any case, a shortened season means significant revenue losses for the league.

"The scale of losses across the league is biblical," Ricketts said. "The timing of the work stoppage, the inability to play was right before the season started. We're looking at 30 teams with zero revenue. To cover the losses, all teams have gone out and borrowed. There's no other way to do it in the short run. In the long run, we may be able to sell equity to cover some of our losses but that's in the long run.”

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How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

The Ricketts family, more than any other owners in the NL Central, should be intrigued by the MLB Players Association’s economic counterproposal.

Overall, the proposal is the second step in a fiery tango, in which the players association and owners begin on opposite sides of the room and hopefully end up somewhere in the middle. The players’ response, which the union reportedly delivered to the league on Sunday, will almost definitely not be adopted in whole. But, in the midst of both sides’ hard-lining, the players extended the option to defer some player salaries if the postseason is cancelled.

As one of the top five spenders in MLB, the Cubs would be one of the teams most affected by that aspect of the proposal.

The prospect of losing the playoffs to a second wave of COVID-19 is the stuff of baseball owners’ nightmares. The postseason supplies especially lucrative TV deals, which become especially important as the league braces for a massive loss of revenue this year.

The MLBPA counterproposal addressed that fear by including deferrals, according to multiple reports. Contracts calling for salaries of $10 million or more (before proration) could be deferred, with interest. High-payroll teams could enjoy up to $7 million each in relief, The Athletic reported.

The Cubs have 10 players poised to make at least $10 million before their salaries are prorated this year, per spotrac.com.

– Jason Heyward, $23.5 million

– Yu Darvish, $22 million

– Jon Lester, $20 million

– Kris Bryant, $18.6 million

– Anthony Rizzo, $16.5 million

– Craig Kimbrel, $16 million

– Tyler Chatwood, $13 million

– Kyle Hendricks, $12 million

– Jose Quintana, $10.5 million

– Javier Baez, $10 million

That’s the most in the league. Twice as many as the White Sox. In the NL Central, the Cardinals (8) are the closest to catching the Cubs, followed by the Reds (5). On the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates don’t have any players with $10 million salaries.

There is, however, a Catch-22. According to chairman Tom Ricketts, 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenue comes from gameday operations. With such a high payroll, and fans banned from attending games for the foreseeable future, the Cubs organization is poised to take an especially large financial hit.

Still, Ricketts said on CNBC last week, “We’d definitely like to see baseball back." 

A presentation from the commissioner’s office to the players association, obtained by the Associated Press, projected $199 million in local losses for the Cubs alone, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That estimate was based on an 82-game season without fans and with players taking prorated salaries.

If that number is accurate – the players continue to call on owners to open their books – $7 million wouldn’t be much relief in the face of a cancelled postseason. And, as mentioned before, it would come with interest. But by mentioning deferrals in a counterproposal, the MLBPA introduced an area for potential compromise.

The players quickly dismissed the league’s sliding scale proposal, which could reportedly pay the highest-paid players merely 20-30 percent of their salaries. But deferrals could help ease owners’ financial challenges this season without axing players earnings so drastically.

Union's counter to MLB allows players to opt out of proposed 114-game season

Union's counter to MLB allows players to opt out of proposed 114-game season

The MLB players union sent its proposal for the 2020 season to MLB on Sunday, five days after receiving what they deemed to be an “extremely disappointing” financial proposal from the league.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the union’s proposal includes starting a 114-game regular season on June 30, an uptick from the 82 games the league has proposed. Players would be allowed to opt out of the season, with those considered to be “high risk” (or live with someone who is) for severe coronavirus symptoms getting paid and service time. Those not considered high risk wouldn’t be paid if they opt out but would receive service time.

The league's Tuesday proposal included a sliding scale where the top-earning players would take the biggest pay cuts, while the lowest earners would make close to prorated salaries. That was met with disapproval from the players, who agreed to take prorated salaries in March based on games played and believe that should stand as the lone pay cut for 2020.

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The owners have cited a provision where that agreement can be nullified if games are played without fans this season — meaning significant revenue losses. Fans aren't expected to be in attendance for most, if not all of this season. With the players seeking prorated salaries, playing more games means taking less of a pay cut. 

Under the union's proposal, the regular season would end on Halloween, with an expanded postseason following. MLB proposed adding four playoff teams in 2020 due to the unique nature of the season. The MLBPA, however, is also calling for an expanded postseason in 2021 — the last season of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.  

Financially speaking, MLB’s biggest incentive for the 2020 season is the national TV money brought in during the playoffs. Scheduling the postseason into mid or late November is risky, then, due to a potential second wave of the coronavirus.

The players are also asking for a $100 million advance during the second “spring training,” as well as an offer to receive a $100 million salary deferral if the postseason is cancelled. The deferral would be for players making $10 million or more before salary proration.

Players will need three or four weeks to ramp up before any regular season can begin. As Passan notes, the two sides need to come to an agreement this week for a June 30 Opening Day to be realistic.

RELATED: Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

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