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Volume 27 No. 5
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Manfred Expected To Implement 60-Game MLB Season

After contentious months-long negotiations produced only a stalemate, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred now plans to unilaterally implement a 60-game regular season if the union agrees to health and safety protocols and a Spring Training start date of July 1 by 5:00pm ET today, a source familiar with the negotiations told THE DAILY.

The move to mandate the length of the season was expected after the MLBPA's 38-member Exec Board yesterday overwhelmingly rejected MLB's final proposal of 60 games. The March 26 agreement between the two sides gives Manfred the authority to mandate the season's length if the league pays players full prorated salaries, a compensation structure players have insisted on all along.

Manfred has viewed the unilateral mandate as a last resort for two central reasons: The union will now retain its right to file a grievance, in which it could claim that the league did not act in good faith in trying to schedule as many games as possible. And the league now is expected to be without its lucrative expanded ‘20 postseason, which was proposed to include as many as 16 teams (up from 10) and generate nearly $1B for the league.

MLB issued a statement saying that the 30 clubs unanimously voted to proceed with the ‘20 season under the terms of the March 26 agreement. The statement added that MLB was "disappointed" by the MLBPA rejecting the "agreement framework" developed by Manfred and MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark during their four-hour meeting last week in Arizona. The union has emphatically refuted that there was an agreement even in principle.

After the Exec Board rejected MLB's proposal, the union issued a statement that said "we anticipate finalizing a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols with Major League Baseball in the coming days, and we await word from the league on the resumption of spring training camps and a proposed 2020 schedule."

A sense of urgency gripped both sides in recent days after multiple teams reported COVID-19 positive cases and MLB moved quickly to temporarily close spring training sites. A source close to the negotiations told THE DAILY that there has been growing pessimism about staging an uninterrupted season, and that any return-to-play announcement could prove a moot point because the virus may well "take care of everything by itself."

Manfred's mandate will signal the end of protracted negotiations that even those close to the union and owners conceded looked awful against the backdrop of a national economic and health crisis. The two sides never agreed on what was settled on player salaries in the March 26 agreement. And they could not agree on what emerged from Manfred's recent face-to-face with Clark.

One prime reason why Manfred may be planning 60 games -- instead of 48 -- is to attempt to demonstrate that MLB is trying to play as many games as the calendar will allow, in essence trying to protect itself against a potential grievance by the union that could cost the league as much as $1B in possible lost wages for players, if MLB were to lose.

When the union offered the league its final counter-proposal last week that called for a 70-game season, that still left a gap of some $250M between the two sides. Owners were not willing to extend beyond a 60-game schedule, which would pay players some $1.51B in salaries, and the calendar increasingly made it more challenging to play more games. Owners have been steadfast that the regular season must end in September because of the risk of a second wave of the virus. That said, the virus' first wave still looms as the largest obstacle to an uninterrupted season.