By Sam Bush

So, after more than three months of dancing around about money and number of games and the DH and COVID-19, it’s come to this.

Major League Baseball and its players’ union are back to square one when the union’s executive board voted to reject the owners’ last offer of a 60-game regular season and expanded postseason, and MLB responded by saying it intended to exercise its power to implement a 2020 schedule — which it will attempt to shoehorn into a dwindling calendar amid a global pandemic.

The union’s 38-player board voted 33-5 against MLB’s latest proposal even though the players could wind up with the same length of schedule they rejected, but the move retains for the union the leverage of a potential grievance accusing the owners of negotiating in bad faith.

Should the sides sign off on the health and safety protocols for navigating the coronavirus outbreak, spring training camps could reopen July 1, with Opening Day about three weeks later and a regular season that could still be 60 games — but without the expanded postseason the sides had all but agreed to. MLB has insisted the season must end by Sept. 27, with the postseason contained to October, to guard against a second wave of the novel coronavirus wiping out the playoffs.

The MLBPA executive board “reaffirmed the players’ eagerness to return to work as soon and as safely as possible,” the union said in a statement. “To that end, 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.”

The Major League Baseball Players Association released the following statement:

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In its statement, MLB asked the union to inform its officials by 5 p.m. Tuesday whether players are willing to report to camps by July 1 and to agree to the health and safety protocols.

The statement also said MLB officials were “disappointed” by the union’s rejection of the “agreement framework developed by Commissioner Manfred and Tony Clark” — a pointed reference to last week’s meeting of the commissioner and the union’s executive director at Clark’s Phoenix-area home, which produced wildly differing interpretations of what was said and agreed to. MLB contended the men reached a handshake deal on a 60-game season; the union characterized that framework as merely a proposal.

“The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic,” MLB said in its statement.

The statement then listed the items the players chose to give up by rejecting MLB’s proposal: a universal designated hitter for 2020 and 2021 (it will still be used in both leagues in 2020 alone), a guaranteed $25 million in 2020 playoff pool money, $33 million in forgiven salary advances paid in April and May, and the chance to earn 104 percent of their prorated salaries.

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Ultimately, with its vote, the union’s executive board decided the enticements MLB was offering were not enough to warrant ceding the players’ biggest bargaining chips, including the threat of a grievance. That grievance, should it be filed, is likely to accuse MLB of stalling over the course of these past few weeks in an effort to pay players as little as possible. However, by implementing a 60-game season, rather than a shorter one of 48 to 54 games that MLB officials had floated in the past, the owners could undercut the players’ legal case.

In the March agreement, the players won the right to earn full, prorated shares of their salaries for 2020, based on the number of games played; MLB contended the agreement called for further negotiations, and further pay reductions for players, owing to lost revenue from games played without fans.

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