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Compensation, safety sticking points in plan to get baseball back; Mariners baseball ops employees to take pay cut

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If I could put graphics in the dek I’d make a road sign-style one that said “Caution, Labor Strife Ahead”

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MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

To catch you up if you haven’t been following along with the road to baseball coming back: On Monday, MLB owners unanimously approved a proposal to send to the MLBPA that outlines how the 2020 season would happen. We covered some aspects of the plan in previous links posts, but here’s a refresher:

  • Season shortened to 82 games, with a target start date is in early July, possibly July 4, and “Spring Training 2.0” in June;
  • Active rosters increased to 30 with a 20-player “taxi squad”;
  • Regionalized schedule (AL West teams would play only other AL West teams and the NL West) with a universal DH rule owing to the new frequency of interleague play;
  • Playoffs expanded to 14 teams, another revenue-generator for the sport;
  • Player salaries further reduced (remember that players already agreed to a salary cut when it was clear the 162-game schedule would not occur as planned).

No extensive discussion about health and safety precautions were leaked in the plan, leading to at least one player pondering what, exactly, the plan is to make sure baseball is played in an environment safe for players and other essential employees:

I recommend reading the entirety of Doolittle’s well-considered, thoughtful thread, which is in no ways prescriptive but does ask several essential questions that so far haven’t been extensively addressed in what we’re hearing about MLB’s plan for reopening.

Aside from the lack of instruction regarding health and safety, there’s another key point to the owners’ plan that may hamper baseball’s return: instead of the previously agreed-upon structure from March where players agreed to take a prorated salary for 2020 based on games played plus a minimum salary guarantee, owners, fearing a steep decline in profits if fans aren’t unable to attend games, want a 50-50 revenue split with the players.

That plan likely won’t get very far with the players; in his response, MLBA executive director Tony Clark accused MLB owners of taking advantage of the pandemic in order to get revenue sharing, something Clark says owners have wanted for years (baseball, as the only major sport without a salary cap, is also the only major sport without revenue sharing). Clark also challenged owners over negotiating “anonymously through the media” in order to put pressure on the players to sign an agreement they oppose or risk being painted as greed-driven monsters withholding the national sport from a populace longing for a sense of normalcy.

Clark’s prediction would ring true; despite the fact that the official proposal has been under the MLBPA’s collective nose for about a day, the players are already drawing censure from sources both outside of baseball and inside it for not immediately signing on the dotted line:

Whew! When Literally Jon Heyman smokes your bacon you have fallen out of the Bad Opinion Tree and hit every branch on the way down.

So baseball’s return rests on these two sides agreeing about money, which feels like it throws a significant wrench into the proceedings. Hopefully in the interim each side has printed out Doolittle’s thread and is going through it like a checklist, because as my mom is fond of reminding me, being in good health is a prize without a price.

Closer to home, Corey Brock at the Athletic reports that the Mariners will be cutting staff salaries by at least 20% for everyone who makes over $60K a year. (My guess is the $60K threshold was arrived at by looking at the median salary in Seattle, which is right around $60K.) This move is a step by the Mariners to avoid furloughing or laying off any employees for the rest of the year, even as Rob Manfred decided in late April to allow teams to cut or suspend salaries with furloughs or layoffs for all non-player personnel working under a UEC (Uniform Employee Contract). (All managers, coaches, trainers and scouts sign UECs per MLB rules, as do some GMs and baseball operations people). Those earning close to the $60K number will be unaffected. Those making significantly more than the $60K cutoff, like Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais, will take larger cuts, although that number has not been specified. Ryan Divish notes more than half of employees weren’t affected by Manfred’s decision, meaning over half of the people working for the Mariners don’t earn the median income in Seattle.

Without knowing what Dipoto, etc. earns as a base salary, it’s difficult to contextualize the salary cut and judge the level of sacrifice. A 25% reduction of a million-dollar salary is $250K, leaving our theoretical Jerry with a mere $750K, or not even enough to buy a median-priced three-bedroom home in Seattle. 25% of a three-million dollar salary—the listing price for Casa Dipoto in California when Dipoto moved from the Angels to the Mariners organization—is a steeper $750K, but still leaves our pretend exec with enough to be comfortable even in Seattle’s toniest areas. It’s another reminder of how much anonymity there is in front office salaries and MLB ownership in general, and the significant disadvantage players, whose salaries are public knowledge, are at in the public eye when the two sides clash.