Players union rejects MLB proposal to delay season

By Bill Shaikin
Los Angeles Times/TNS
MLB players remain scheduled to report to spring training in two weeks, with the full 162-game schedule set to begin April 1.

Major league players Monday rejected the league’s proposal to delay the season by a month and shorten it by eight games, refusing to grant Commissioner Rob Manfred the unilateral authority to suspend the season without guarantees that player pay and service time would be protected.

Players remain scheduled to report to spring training in two weeks, with the full 162-game schedule set to start April 1. The rejected proposal also included a universal designated hitter and a 14-team postseason field, so for now, the 2021 season will be played with no DH in the National League and 10 teams in the playoffs.

“We do not make this decision lightly,” the Major League Baseball Players Association said in a statement. “Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalizing enhanced health and safety protocols that will help players and clubs meet these challenges.”

The long-playing distrust between owners and players torpedoed what appeared to be a win-win-win scenario: A later start could allow more time for the winter coronavirus surges to dissipate and for players and fans to get vaccinated, making it likely that more fans could be in attendance and a full 162-game season still could be played.

Instead, when owners first floated the idea of a delay in December, they declined to consider guaranteeing players the full 162 games of pay or extending the season into November. The owners did both in the proposal they made Friday, with a 154-game schedule that would start April 28 and the World Series extending into early November.

In a statement Monday night, the players’ union alluded to the informal nature of the December conversation by saying that Friday marked “the first time this offseason [we] received a proposal from MLB to delay spring training and Opening Day by approximately one month.”

However, the players were concerned that the proposal granted Manfred unilateral authority to suspend the season - and with it player salaries - in the event of virus outbreaks, heightened health risks or government restrictions. Manfred considered suspending the season last year, amid outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, but ultimately the season was played to completion and players were paid for every scheduled game.

The timing of the latest proposal also was problematic to the union, which was concerned about unnecessary injury risks given that many players have started intensifying their offseason workouts in anticipation of an on-time start to spring training. 

Monday’s rejection would not preclude a later agreement on either the DH or the expanded postseason. The league and the union agreed on a 16-team playoff field last year, on the very day the season started. Both the owners and the players would prefer the universal DH.

In negotiations this winter, the owners have linked the DH and the expanded postseason, believing the DH would be a win for the players. However, the traditional aging, high-paid slugger at DH is more of an endangered species than a bargaining chip. The players would have agreed to simply adopt the universal DH on its own; the owners were not interested.

The union statement noted that players would have been required to “accept previously rejected proposals that link expanded playoffs with expansion of the designated hitter.”

The players are wary of losing the much more considerable bargaining chip of expanded postseason - and the hundreds of millions it would generate in television revenue each year - ahead of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires in December.