Opinion: MLB players are prepared to play 2020 season … but on one condition

The ugliness started before negotiations between MLB and the players union even began Tuesday afternoon.

Let’s see, we had Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker chastising the players for opposing MLB's revenue-sharing plan, saying they owe it to fans to take a pay cut and play ball during this horrific economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Never mind that the narrative is false.

Former All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira urged players to bow down to MLB owners and accept their revenue-sharing proposal for the good of the country. Never mind that he earned $213 million in his career.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer declared that no sports will be played any time soon there, saying “with all certainty’’ that the county’s stay-at-home order will be extended for three months.

So who would have imagined that the most peaceful talks of the day were between MLB and the players union, who spent 2½ hours discussing health and safety issues and testing protocols, but no discussion of an economic proposal?

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INSIDE THE BATTLE: MLB players have revenue-sharing fight on hands

Maybe it’s a sign of peace and tranquility before Spring Training 2.0 can start at a ballpark near you.

Or perhaps it just delays the inevitable.

Agent Scott Boras, who represents about 100 major league players, told USA TODAY Sports that all of his players are prepared to play right now and are willing to squeeze in as many as 124 regular-season games through October.

On one condition.

They will not accept a penny less than the prorated salaries they agreed to following negotiations with the owners on March 26.

“After this agreement was reached," Boras told USA TODAY Sports, “you can’t come forward with a dynamic and say, 'Hi, I want to privatize the games and socialize the losses.'"

The biggest concern he hears from his players, Boras says, is not for their safety and welfare but their rights. The players trust that MLB will have plenty of testing and safety measures during the season but, considering they are taking the health risk, believe it’s unfair to ask them to assume any further financial hits.

They already will earn about half of their salary during the proposed 82-game regular-season schedule, but owners say they will lose 40% of their revenue if the season is played with no fans.

And if there’s a second wave of COVID-19 and the season is shut down, it would be disastrous, losing all of their postseason TV rights fees.

“We’re talking about heavy, heavy losses," one owner told USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because negotiations are private. “There are teams that would lose about $100 million during the regular season if we played with no fans and the players’ salaries stayed the same."

Boras argues that perhaps only a handful of teams might actually lose money, and considering the soaring value of franchises, they could withstand any financial risk. Besides, considering TV networks are desperate for live content, he says, maybe teams will even get an increase in advertising rights.

“Every owner has at least doubled or quadrupled their money, with every club gaining $700 million to $2 billion in equity,’’ Boras said. “And never has there been a suggestion about sharing those gains with players. They wanted to privatize the games. This is the only time it has come up.

“If I’m an owner of a company, I don’t ask my employees in a downtime due to the virus to bear the cost. I pay them their salaries. That’s what every business owner does. You don’t socialize their employees.

“Players have already made a compromise.’’

Boras says that while none of his players have expressed any fear over playing during this pandemic, they have been consistent in their message: They don’t deserve a further pay cut, no matter what Boras’ former client said Tuesday on ESPN.

“Players need to understand that if they turn this deal down, and shut the sport down, they’re not making a cent," Teixeira said. "I would rather make pennies on the dollar and give hope to people and play baseball than not make anything and lose an entire year off their career.’’

And, no, he’s not sympathetic to the players who already agreed to be paid on a prorated basis, with union chief Tony Clark saying any talks of revenue sharing or further reductions would be a non-starter.

“The problem is that you have people all over the world taking pay cuts, losing their jobs, losing their lives, front-line workers putting their lives at risk," Teixeira said. “These are unprecedented times.

“This is the one time that I would advocate for the players accepting a deal like this, a 50-50 split of revenues. It’s not that crazy. If you really think about it and boil it down to what the players usually get from a revenue standpoint, it’s actually lower than 50% of the baseball revenue for a full season. So, if I’m a player, I don’t like it. But I’m going to do whatever I have to do to play and that means taking this deal.”

Teixeira’s views were echoed by Pritzker, who said that he’s “disappointed in many ways that players are holding out for these very, very high salaries and payments during a time when I think everybody is sacrificing."

Well, the truth is that the players are simply trying to cling on to the salaries they already negotiated, but why let facts get in the way?

There will be plenty more rhetoric, pomposity and grandiloquence in the next few weeks as negotiations between the union and MLB get hot and heavy.

Yet no matter what is uttered, no matter what angry declarations are made, the owners and players are desperate for a season as much as the fans.

The owners believe they will lose about $125 million a team if no season is played and about $100 million during the regular season if they played with no fans. The risk is if they sustain those losses during the regular season and the postseason was abruptly cancelled, it could lead several owners to possible bankruptcy.

The players will lose everything but the $280,000 they’ll have received by May 24 if there is no season. But if they agree to a pay cut, they believe they’ll be losing their rights and leverage in upcoming talks with their collective bargaining agreement expiring on Dec. 1, 2021.

“I believe the season depends largely on the information the union leadership receives," Boras said. “I think the union leadership and the players’ intentions have never been more on the same page. This is the most galvanized the players have been on a subject, and their support of the union leadership has never been better.

“The players want to play. The owners, at least the ones I talk to, want to play, too.

“Let’s don’t waste any more time. It’s time to go."

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale.

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