Report: Lawyer Email to Officials Shows MLBPA Knew About Pay Re-Negotiation

John Raoux/Associated PressMajor League Baseball believes an email between sent between its officials shows that the players association knew it would need to have another negotiation regarding payroll, separate from the pay cut the players took in March, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post. In the email—sent by senior vice president, labor relations and deputy general counsel Patrick…

Report: Lawyer Email to Officials Shows MLBPA Knew About Pay Re-Negotiation

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions at a press conference during MLB baseball owners meetings, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

John Raoux/Associated Press

Major League Baseball believes an email between sent between its officials shows that the players association knew it would need to have another negotiation regarding payroll, separate from the pay cut the players took in March, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post

In the email—sent by senior vice president, labor relations and deputy general counsel Patrick Houlihan to deputy commissioner Dan Halem and other league officials—Houlihan recounted a meeting he and MLB executive vice president of baseball economics Morgan Sword held with players association deputy general counsel Matt Nussbaum and director of analytics and baseball operations Greg Dreyfuss.

The email read, in part:

“Matt asked what ‘economic feasibility’ meant in Section I. I told him it meant that we would only consider playing in neutral sites or without fans if it worked for us economically. I reminded him of Rob [Manfred’s] comments at the outset that playing in empty stadiums did not work for us economically. But I said, for example, that we might be willing to have a conversation about playing some limited number of games in empty stadiums if players agreed to reduce their daily salaries for those games, and if it was part of a larger plan that made economic sense. Matt confirmed that that is what he thought we meant, but appreciated the confirmation.”

If all of this sounds very far into the weeds, well, it is. And it’s likely the players association will fight back against the notion that they ever agreed to the concept of a second payroll negotiation. NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra offered a different perspective on the email:

Craig Calcaterra @craigcalcaterra

This is one of the more pathetic gambits I’ve seen from MLB in a while. They should be embarrassed.

Craig Calcaterra @craigcalcaterra

I’m mostly just pissed that these clowns are making me think about the parol evidence rule, which is not a thing I have thought about for like five years probably and not a thing I’ve actually cared about for a decade.

Craig Calcaterra @craigcalcaterra

The season happens if there is a successful negotiation. Full stop. Every moment people at either MLB or the PA spend spinning this garbage is a moment not working out what may, as it is, be the most difficult thing either side has ever done.

There’s little doubt a public relations battle is brewing between the sides, with the specter of a lost season looming. The 1994-95 strike was devastating for the sport, and neither the players nor owners want to be seen as the driving factor for another work stoppage. 

So, what is at issue? In essence, in the original March agreement, the players agreed to take on prorated salaries if the season was shortened, and forfeit their salaries if the season was lost. As Ronald Blum of the Associated Press wrote, “While the thresholds for the luxury tax remain unchanged, the amount due by a club would be reduced by the percentage of regular-season games not played by that team.”

In the original agreement, it was stated that “each of the parties shall work in good faith to as soon as is practicable commence, play, and complete the fullest 2020 championship season and postseason that is economically feasible.”

The players feel they’ve already taken a major pay cut by prorating their previously negotiated salaries based on the amount of games being played. The owners, fearing major financial losses with no fans in the stands, want to add a 50-50 revenue split on top of the March agreement. To the players, that represents taking a second pay cut. 

Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

Regarding MLB plan to seek a 50-50 revenue split, Scott Boras, noting franchise value increases and previous profits (he mentioned a $476M gain in ‘19 for Braves, the one team owned by a public company), said on @JoeandEvan “You don’t privatize the gains and socialize the losses”

Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

MLB people think it’s clear and they have it cold in emails as well as the late March agreement that prorated pay for players is predicated on fans attending games. Union leaders disagree, and players seem pretty firm for now in seeking to keep it as prorated.

Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

MLB hasn’t yet made new offer to players but has painted bleak economic picture for season w/o fans at games. MLB has suggested hypothetically they’d lose $1.5B plus (1.5-2B) even if 82 games were played for free (no player pay). That’s not happening but union is skeptical of #s

Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

MLB in recent talks gave the union 2 options: 1) negotiate a new financial arrangement (sonething other than prorated pay for players playing games with no fans in attendance) or 2) wait until the Coronavirus yo clear to the point where fans can attend games.

Jon Heyman @JonHeyman

MLB has been espousing a 50-50 revenue split behind the scenes but no formal proposal has been made to players yet. In any case, players do seem very much resolved not to agree to a revenue sharing proposal on principle (they view at as a form of salary cap, and a bad precedent)

It’s complicated, it’s messy and it’s certainly possible that the two sides won’t bridge the gap. If they don’t, that means no baseball in 2020. That will not only hurt both sides financially, it will also hurt the reputation of the sport.

So it’s in the interest of both sides to work this out. Baseball fans will be waiting anxiously to see if that happens.