The MLB Players Association and MLB could be headed for a confrontation regarding player salaries if the league is forced to stage games without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich pointed to comments made by New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday night. The mayor said on CNN's Cuomo Prime Time he was told players would need to take pay cuts to account for the absence of fans:
Cuomo Prime Time @CuomoPrimeTime
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks about how his life has changed with coronavirus saying he dreams of a day when he never has to hear about social distancing again. “I want the pain to stop. I want the fear to stop. I want the anxiety to stop…Let’s get back to normal.” https://t.co/Zlwxua2WIw
At issue is an agreement between players and owners regarding a number of factors, including compensation, to account for a shortened or canceled 2020 season.
According to Rosenthal and Drellich, there's an apparent difference of opinion about how the agreement applies to a situation where MLB stadiums are empty:
"A separate section of the deal, listing the conditions for games to resume, says the commissioner’s office and the union “will discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.” Similar phrasing exists in other parts of the agreement as well.
"One person with knowledge of the deal said the clause was not intended to signal any willingness by the players to reopen salary discussions. Others said the issue was left undecided, and that the league made it clear to the union that economic adjustments would be necessary if games were played in empty parks."
Under the agreement, players will receive $170 million to cover April and May, which they would keep if the season is canceled. The money would carry over to future paychecks if the season started.
Were MLB to resume action this year, the players would collect a prorated portion of their 2020 salaries based on the number of games played.
A spokesperson for MLB told Rosenthal and Drellich, "Both parties understood that the deal was premised on playing in stadiums with fans and the agreement makes that clear."
The Associated Press' Ronald Blum first reported April 7 that MLB and the MLBPA were considering a plan where teams would play games in empty stadiums in and around Phoenix to expedite the start of the season.
ESPN's Jeff Passan provided further details: "Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said."
Some have questioned the feasibility of the approach, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, lent some credence to the idea. He said Wednesday on Good Luck America that keeping athletes isolated at a large hotel, watching them closely, and testing them frequently could resolve concerns about spreading the coronavirus:
Rosenthal and Drellich speculated that players "might be particularly disinclined" to accept a lower portion of their agreed-upon salaries should they have to take such extreme steps to enable baseball's return.