MLB commissioner ’not confident’ of season

Marc Topkin Tampa Bay
Times (TNS)
A baseball with MLB logo is seen at Citizens Bank Park before a game between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies on June 28, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pa.

Given no resolution or even further negotiations with the players, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that he is no longer certain there will be a 2020 season as he assured last week.

"I'm not confident," Manfred told ESPN. "I think there's real risk. And as long as there's no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue."

That is a significant change in position from Wednesday, when Manfred said on the MLB Network that "we're going to play baseball in 2020, 100 percent."

Saturday, union chief Tony Clark essentially ended the negotiations that have been primarily over player play, saying "it unfortunately appears" further talks "would be futile," and that "it's time to get back to work," asking the league to tell them by Monday afternoon "when and where" to report.

Absent a new offer that led to an agreement, Manfred was expected to announce, perhaps as soon as Monday night, that the league would give the players the full prorated pay they wanted but over an abbreviated season, likely around 54 games.

Talking with ESPN for a show to air at 9 p.m. Monday involving all sports, Manfred said the union ending the negotiations with a need to still work out an agreement on health-and-safety protocols to start play was "really negative" in their efforts.

"The owners are 100 percent committed to getting baseball back on the field," Manfred said. "Unfortunately, I can't tell you that I'm 100 percent certain that's gonna happen."

Manfred told ESPN that he thinks the union will file a grievance stemming from the league's commitment in a March 26 agreement dealing with multiple aspects of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown to play as many games as possible, a result of the overall confrontational aspect of the talks.

"I had been hopeful that once we got to common ground on the idea that we were gonna pay the players full prorated salary, that we would get some cooperation in terms of proceeding under the agreement that we negotiated with the MLBPA on March 26," Manfred said.

"Unfortunately, over the weekend, while Tony Clark was declaring his desire to get back to work, the union's top lawyer was out telling reporters, players and eventually getting back to owners that as soon as we issued a schedule - as they requested - they intended to file a grievance claiming they were entitled to an additional billion dollars," Manfred told ESPN. "Obviously, that sort of bad-faith tactic makes it extremely difficult to move forward in these circumstances."

Concerns about that grievance, and the potential financial consequences of losing, appear to be a major factor. Sourced reports on Monday afternoon, including from the Los Angeles Times, said the MLB told the union there would be no season "unless the players waived any legal claims against the league."

Manfred did acknowledge how incredibly bad it looked for owners and players to still be unable to work out an agreement given the overall impact of the pandemic.

"It's just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it," Manfred said. "It shouldn't be happening, and it's important that we find a way to get past it and get the game back on the field for the benefit of our fans."

There was no immediate response from the union.

Players have been commenting on social media that they were eager to get going but remained adamant on getting their full pay based on the number of games played. The owners, meanwhile, had been seeking a further reduction to offset staging games with fans, and thus no revenue.

"I just want to get paid for every game that We are out there," former Rays star Evan Longoria, now with the Giants, tweeted. "It's that simple."

Using Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier as an example, he was due to make $10 million in salary over a full 162-game season, so he would get $5 million if they had an 82-game season and $3.33 million if they were set to play 54.

Some Rays continued their work Monday to prepare for whatever form of season they have. About 16 players worked out at Tropicana Field, the 10th of the thrice-weekly voluntary sessions for 40-man roster players since the stadium was re-opened on May 25.

Operating under social distancing and other coronavirus precautions, players took batting practice on the field in groups of two while Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Charlie Morton, and Ryan Yarbrough were among the pitchers throwing off the mound.