Former Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette says it’s important for MLB and MLBPA to work together to get back on the field this year due to the ominous consequences of a canceled season, but he’s already deeply concerned about the impact the pandemic has had on baseball as it is.
MLB and the players’ union are currently in negotiations on the health and safety protocols and the pay structure needed in order to return to play. The league is hoping to start a second spring training in June and begin regular-season play without fans in the stands in July.
MLB is reportedly preparing to offer players a 50-50 split on 2020 revenues, while the union has pointed to an agreement the two sides made in March that stated the players would receive a prorated portion of their salaries based on games played. But owners say the March agreement was based on games being played with fans in the stands; they argue that they’d take huge financial losses if they paid out prorated salaries with no gate revenue.
The two sides appear, at least temporarily, to be at an impasse on the issue of pay, even with that possible early June report date quickly approaching.
“I’m not privy to the negotiations. Obviously the health and safety of all the people involved is paramount,” Duquette said on Glenn Clark Radio May 18. “The owners and the players are going to have to work it out. They’re going to have to work together on it. I don’t know that we’ve been faced with anything close to this. We had a pandemic, I guess, in 1918, 100 years ago.”
Duquette pointed out that NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently told players to prepare for the possibility that there are no fans in the stands through the 2020-21 season. Silver said because 40 percent of the NBA’s revenue comes from ticket sales, concessions and the like, the pandemic could cause major financial consequences down the road for the league and its players.
Duquette, who ran the Orioles’ baseball operations from 2012-2018, envisions a similar outlook for baseball as the one Silver laid out for NBA players.
“On a macro basis, he was basically preparing the players that the economics of this pandemic and impact on our business is devastating,” Duquette said. “The reality of the economics going forward is grim, and we’re going to have to work together to restart our business. I don’t know any other way to do it.”
Like Silver, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says that 40 percent of the league’s revenue comes from sales related to game day like tickets, concessions, parking and more, thus painting a more challenging economic landscape for players and owners for the foreseeable future. But as the two sides negotiate about how to move forward economically, they also must create a safe environment for players and team personnel amid a pandemic.
MLB recently sent a 67-page proposal to players that covers everything from extensive testing to social distancing. Should the sides not be able to get the 2020 season off the ground – either because of finances or the concerns regarding health and safety – Duquette is worried about the kind of landscape that would await baseball on the other side.
A canceled 2020 season would mean a 17-month break between games that count (2019 World Series to 2021 Opening Day).
“When we had the strike in ’94, it took a long time for people to come back,” Duquette said, referring to the work stoppage that lasted from August 1994 to April 1995. “This is a longer time. People find other things to do. They develop other interests. My fear is that baseball stays out all year. What happens then? I think it’s even harder to come back and gain some traction in the market where you’ve enjoyed great success before.”
And Duquette is deeply concerned about the consequences the pandemic has already had on the game, particularly from a player development standpoint. MLB shortened its June draft to five rounds this year, down from the usual 40 and shorter than the 10-round draft it could have put on. There also seems to be little to no optimism that a traditional minor-league season can be played without fans in the stands. So any competition minor leaguers face this year would likely come in a fanless instructional league-esque setup in Arizona or Florida.
A short draft and no minor-league season is especially troubling for a team like the Orioles, who are counting on its minor-league system coming through as part of its rebuilding plan, but it hurts all 30 teams.
“What are we going to do for a future pipeline of good players coming through? These are all difficult questions that need to be resolved,” Duquette said. “It’s a question not just for the owners — it’s a question for players. What do you do?”
Duquette explained that the pandemic has myriad consequences, starting with the very best player in the game and working down to draft-eligible players who are now staring at a five-round draft and a $20,000 signing bonus cap should they go undrafted. High school seniors who go unselected are left with the choice about whether to sign for $20,000 to play pro ball, go to a college program with a potentially crowded roster (because of the spring sports waiver) or enroll in a junior college.
College juniors and seniors who go undrafted will have similar decisions to make. They’ll have to decide whether to sign for $20,000 – much lower than the six-figure bonuses they would have gotten had they gone in rounds 6-10 of a normal draft – or return to school and re-enter the draft process when they’re a year older.
“You’re Mike Trout, you’re on your way to being the best player in the history of the game and you can’t play your prime season now? Or you’re a kid that’s come out of high school and you have pointed your whole life toward the draft,” Duquette said. “What happens now? OK, you’re going to go to college? Well, all the guys that were going to sign that were coming out of college are going back to college next year. It’s going to be a different environment.”
To hear more from Duquette, including memories from his time with the Orioles, listen to the full interview here:
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