When Jeff Francoeur gazes at his crystal ball, he sees baseball.
"I think we're going to end up with baseball being played," the former Phillie and 12-year big-leaguer said. "We need baseball."
Francoeur, now a member of the Atlanta Braves television broadcast team, was a guest on our Phillies Talk podcast Wednesday, a day after baseball owners proposed a salary structure for a shortened 2020 season that was quickly panned by the players.
"My crystal ball says the owners and players will figure this out in the next seven to 10 days," Francoeur said. "There might be a couple shots thrown in the media, but you know what? Baseball's always withstood that. If they open up on July 4, families sitting around with a beer and barbecue watching a baseball game, I think we'll look back and say, 'We did a pretty damn good job with this.'"
The sporting world shut down in mid-March as the coronavirus health crisis surged. Now, leagues are plotting a course to return. Major League Baseball would like to come back in July with an 82-game schedule. For health reasons, fans will not be permitted in ballparks — at least for a while — and players will have to do their best to observe rules of social distancing and other sanitary practices, such as no spitting.
Everybody seems OK with all of this.
Except for one thing.
Owners have already suffered revenue losses and playing games in empty stadiums will equal more loss. They have proposed sliding-scale salary cuts that could have the game's most highly paid marquee stars making about one-fifth of their 2020 salaries. To wit, Bryce Harper, with an average annual salary just under $25.4 million, would make about $6.5 million.
Management's proposal is viewed by most as a starting point in negotiations that must happen quickly because teams would need to be in "spring training" camps by mid-June to pull off an early July return.
Francoeur, who retired after the 2016 season, was asked point-blank if he believed either side had "the guts" to call off the season.
"I don't," he said. "I don't. Because I know, as a player, I would be fighting my tail off to tell (union boss) Tony Clark to tell the players, 'We've got to figure something out.' I think the thing that stinks now is (the instant reaction of) social media. If you could put the owners and the players together in a room for three days and say, 'figure it out,' without everybody else knowing one thing or another. That's the worst part, that this is going to play out in the media. I just tell people, 'Look, it's going to run its course.' Eventually, in the next week, you're going to see them come to an agreement and I do believe that in the middle of June, teams are going to be fired back up for spring training.
"As a former player, I'll always be a player, a union guy. Those are my guys, my buddies. But I'll tell you this: There's going to have to be concessions on both sides. Baseball has to figure it out. And if it doesn't, I'll be the first one to say it, shame on them, shame on the owners and shame on the players if they don't figure this out."
Francoeur offered a potential solution.
"I'm not a huge fan of the sliding scale," he said. "I think the best way to do it is deferments. In two or three years, make up the money on the back end for your high-profile, high-paid guys. They don't need the money right now. But I also understand you're asking some of these guys to basically take an 80 percent pay cut.
"It's tough because you're talking about billionaires talking to millionaires with 30 to 35 million people unemployed. They don't want to hear it and I think we all get that. The whole health protocol, they're going to figure that out. But if there's no baseball because of the financial aspect, if they don't come to an agreement, I'll tell you what, that's going to be sad when all these other sports get playing. Baseball has a chance to be the focal point this summer. I said from Day 1, could you imagine an opening day on July 4? On the biggest independence holiday here, to not have baseball would be a shame.
"If this is green-lighted to go from a health standpoint and you can't get out there because of finances, then shame on baseball."