MLBPA rejects league's 154-game proposal: MLB's 2021 season to start on time


The Major League Baseball Players Association has rejected a proposal from MLB to shorten the 2021 season to 154 games. MLB recently proposed the changes and offered to pay the players for the usual 162 games in exchange for an expanded 2021 postseason. In response to the union's rejection, MLB now says the 2021 season will start on time and as planned.

The union released the following statement on Monday night: 

"Late last week, the MLBPA for the first time this offseason received a proposal from MLB to delay Spring Training and Opening Day by approximately one month.

Under the proposal, the end of the season would be delayed one week, the regular season would be shortened to 154 games and all thirty teams would be required to play several doubleheaders. Players would also be required to accept previously rejected proposals that link expanded playoffs with expansion of the designated hitter.

Although Player salaries would not be initially prorated to a 154-game regular season, MLB's proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delays, interruptions, or cancellation of the season.

The MLBPA Executive Board and Player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners' proposal throughout the weekend and today. The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that Players will not accept MLB's proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB's commitment to again direct its Clubs to prepare for an on-time start. 

We do not make this decision lightly. 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."

MLB subsequently responded with its own statement: 

"On the advice of medical experts, we proposed a one-month delay to the start of Spring Training and the regular season to better protect the health and safety of players and support staff.  A delay of the season would allow for the level of COVID-19 infection rates to decrease and additional time for the distribution of vaccinations, as well as minimizing potential disruptions to the 2021 season that currently face all sports. 

"The offer included starting the regular season on April 29th and playing a 154-game schedule that would pay players in full as if playing 162 games.  We also proposed two changes from the 2020 season that were overwhelmingly popular with our fans – for this season only, featuring a modified expanded Postseason (seven teams per League) and the universal designated hitter rule. 

"This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport by merely moving the calendar of the season back one month for health and safety reasons without impacting any rights either the players or the Clubs currently have under the Basic Agreement or Uniform Player's Contract for pay and service time.  

"In light of the MLBPA's rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols. Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball.  We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB staff to protect one another.  We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021."

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, a number of players believe it is too late in the offseason to revise the schedule, which explains in part the reasoning behind the union's rejection. The two sides could revisit the idea of expanded playoffs and the universal DH, but the union remains opposed to the idea of expanded playoffs, according to Rosenthal.

It should be noted the MLBPA recently rejected an offer that would have given them the universal DH in exchange for an expanded postseason. The new 154-game season proposal is essentially the same offer, only with eight fewer games and a delayed start. 

Under the league's plan, spring training would've begun March 22, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, and Opening Day would have been moved back to April 28. The Wall Street Journal's Jared Diamond adds the expanded postseason would have included 14 teams, not 16 like the 2020 season.

MLB's proposal seems reasonable enough on the surface, though the MLBPA would not be getting anything nearly as valuable as the expanded postseason is to the owners. An expanded postseason equals tens of millions in additional revenue to MLB. The union is already entitled to full pay for 2021, which means they wouldn't have been getting much out of the rejected proposal.

As much as delaying the season would make sense for health and safety reasons, it comes down to money. MLB wants to play as many games as possible with fans in the stands, and delaying the season would help it do that now that vaccination distribution has begun. The MLBPA wants full pay regardless of season length.

Spring training camps are scheduled to open in mid-February and Cactus League and Grapefruit League play will begin Feb. 27. The regular-season opener is scheduled for April 1. To hear both sides now tell it, that's the schedule they'll stick to.

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