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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred
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AP Source: Chance MLB won’t play increases in money fight

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday he has doubt about a 2020 season. (AP)

NEW YORK (AP) – MLB might not play at all this year after a breakdown in talks between teams and the players’ association on how to split up money in a season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Two days after union head Tony Clark declared additional negotiations futile, the commissioner’s office notified the players’ association on Monday that it will not proceed with a schedule unless the threat of legal action by the union is resolved.

These were just the latest in escalating volleys by sides already thinking about bargaining to replace the labor contract that expires on Dec. 1, 2021.

“It’s just a disaster for our game, absolutely no question about it,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said during an appearance on ESPN that included the heads of the other major U.S. professional leagues. “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.”

Clark had issued a statement Saturday that told MLB: “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.” The union then said it would file a grievance seeking additional economic documents and money damages that could total $1 billion or more.

MLB balked at moving ahead, informing the union it would announce a schedule and a date for the resumption of spring training if the union agrees to waive claims that MLB violated the March 26 agreement between the sides, or if the union agreed to an expedited grievance procedure. MLB said absent a solution, the dispute would remain an impediment to starting play.

MLB’s action was described to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the details who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement was authorized.

“Players are disgusted that after Rob Manfred unequivocally told players and fans that there would `100%’ be a 2020 season, he has decided to go back on his word and is now threatening to cancel the entire season.,” Clark said in a statement Monday.

“This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning,” Clark added. “This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”

Manfred said ahead of last week’s amateur draft that the chance of a season was “100%.”

“I can tell you unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” he said on ESPN’s draft broadcast.

He reversed his position Monday.

“I’m not confident. I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is going to continue,” Manfred said on ESPN. “The owners are 100% committed to getting baseball back on the field. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m 100% certain that’s going to happen.”

MLB has made three economic offers, the last on Friday offering to guarantee players 70% of their salaries as part a 72-game schedule beginning July 14 and increasing the total to 80% if the postseason is completed.

Players previously offered two proposals, holding their position that no additional pay cuts were acceptable beyond the prorated salaries for 2020 that they had agreed to on March 26. That agreement called for players to get $170 million in salary advances and a guarantee of service time credit if no games are played this year.

Manfred had threatened a shorter schedule, perhaps of about 50 games. The union could respond by filing a grievance that would be heard by arbitrator Mark Irvings, arguing players should be paid for the season of 119 games they initially proposed. The union’s first plan would result in salaries of nearly $3 billion.

Players are angry following five years of flat salaries, a lost grievance claiming the Chicago Cubs manipulated the service time of star third baseman Kris Bryant in violation of the labor contract and allegations several teams did not properly use revenue sharing proceeds, which the union called “tanking.”

Players hope to see documents detailing regional sports networks’ agreements with teams, financial interests of MLB owners in RSNs and real estate ventures adjacent to ballparks, plus MLB affiliated companies such as the MLB Network, MLB Advanced Media and BAM Tech. During a grievance, they would ask Irvings to order document production.

In their March agreement, the sides vowed to “work in good faith to as soon as is practicable commence, play, and complete the fullest 2020 championship season and post-season that is economically feasible, consistent with” a series of provisions.

Absent Manfred’s consent, the agreement said, the season would not begin unless there were no travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada impacting play, no restrictions on mass gatherings at all 30 regular-season ballparks and no health or safety risks in playing in front of fans at the regular stadiums. But it also provided that the sides “will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.”

MLB told the union it would lose an additional $640,000 for each regular season game played with no gate revenue and does not want to extend the regular season past Sept. 27 because it fears a second wave of the coronavirus could endanger the postseason, when $787 million of broadcast revenue is earned.

The sides also have open issues in the health and medical operations manual they have discussed for this season, and they have not agreed to changes to playing, roster and transactions rules.

Drayer: MLB may be closer to games, but battle lines continue to be drawn