Tony Clark

1 major hurdle cleared, 1 still to go before MLB can finalize 2020 season plans

1 major hurdle cleared, 1 still to go before MLB can finalize 2020 season plans

When MLB announced Monday it would impose a 2020 season, the league requested two responses from the players' association by 5 p.m. Tuesday. 

1) Will players be able to report to camps by July 1?

2) Has the union signed off on the league's health and safety protocols?

One of the hurdles has been cleared. The players have agreed to report by July 1 and play a 60-game regular season, according to the NY Post.

The players have not yet signed off on the health and safety protocols, so the deal is not final.

We would make a joke about the sides' inability to meet the latest deadline in this long, drawn-out, ridiculous process, but the health and safety issue is complicated, more so than it was even a week ago. It is understandable why that aspect of the deal could take a bit longer to lock down.

Within the last week, 12 members of the Phillies' organization — seven players — have tested positive for COVID-19. All but one of those cases came in Clearwater, where the Phillies subsequently closed their spring training facility. When Spring Training II begins, it will be in South Philadelphia and at the Phillies' Triple A facility in Lehigh Valley. Teams won't be facing other teams, instead doing baseball activities on their own and holding intrasquad games.

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MLB's 60-game proposal rejected by players association — what now?

MLB's 60-game proposal rejected by players association — what now?

What now?

The Major League Baseball Players Association on Monday voted down management's proposal of a 60-game season at 100 percent prorated pay.

The move makes it extremely doubtful that the two sides will reach a negotiated agreement on a way to start a shortened season in 2020 and puts the pressure on Commissioner Rob Manfred to use his power to implement a season at a length of his choosing, likely between 48 and 60 games.

The executive board of the Players Association rejected MLB's proposal by a vote of 33-5, according to ESPN and other reports.

MLB had targeted July 19-20 as a start date for a shortened season. That still may be the target if Manfred implements a season, but there are now more hurdles than there were a week ago. There have been flareups of coronavirus in a number of states, including Florida and Texas, and several teams, including the Phillies, have had multiple players test positive for the virus. It's possible that some players could opt out of a shortened season for health reasons. It's also possible that there could be more flareups as teams officially reconvene and that could alter plans.

It's also possible, though not likely at this point, that owners could view the health situation as too risky and instruct Manfred to cancel the season.

MLB proposed a 60-game season a week ago and Manfred stated that he believed the framework for a deal was in place. There was optimism, briefly, on both sides. The union responded with a 70-game proposal. MLB, which wants to get the regular season completed in September, before a postseason, stuck to its proposal of 60 games.

By not agreeing to MLB's proposal, the union kept open the important possibility of legal action against MLB. The union would find a grievance and a grievance procedure quite valuable as it could force owners to open their financial books before the two sides begin negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires after the 2021 season.

But first, will there be a 2020 season?

It's MLB's move.

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Jeff Francoeur: 'Shame on' MLB owners and players if they don't figure this out

Jeff Francoeur: 'Shame on' MLB owners and players if they don't figure this out

When Jeff Francoeur gazes at his crystal ball, he sees baseball.

This summer.

"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.

The money.

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."

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