On the day Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told a wide swath of the sport’s staffers that “I fully anticipate baseball will return this season,” more than half the teams in the league pledged to pay baseball operations staffs through at least the end of May, sources familiar with teams’ dealings told ESPN.
Some of the game’s biggest-market and highest-revenue teams, including the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and reigning World Series champion Washington Nationals, have not yet given employees assurances of payment through May, according to sources.
Amid a financial crunch that has left some front offices fearing layoffs and furloughs, Manfred told managers, coaches and other baseball operations workers that he planned to suspend their Uniform Employee Contracts on May 1, according to a copy of the email he sent that was obtained by ESPN.
The move to suspend the contracts, first reported by The Athletic, was long anticipated, and it allows teams to stop paying employees covered by them. In the email, Manfred pointed to the lack of revenue from tickets, concessions, broadcasting, licensing and sponsorships and said: “In the absence of games, these revenue streams will be lost or substantially reduced, and Clubs will not have sufficient funds to meet their financial obligations.”
Nevertheless, 18 teams have told baseball operations employees that they will be paid through May. Some or all of those teams could decide to pay employees beyond May.
Additionally, the San Diego Padres told baseball operations employees that they will be paid through the end of the scheduled season, though a number will take pay cuts that one employee deemed “very reasonable.”
The teams that informed baseball operations employees that they will receive paychecks through May include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays, according to sources.
Some teams have undertaken cost-cutting measures to ensure the viability of May employment. Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has forgone his $5 million salary indefinitely, according to sources, and high-ranking Texas Rangers officials took temporary pay cuts in hopes of ensuring others wouldn’t lose jobs.
Teams have considered furloughing lower-paid employees, who could seek unemployment benefits that might match or even exceed what they make with the team, sources said. The surge of people seeking unemployment benefits could cause problems for those needing them, potentially prompting teams to offer bridge payments to those furloughed.
The murkiness of baseball’s economic future is driving decisions around the sport, from the employment of baseball operations staffers — many of whom have nothing to do without games being played — to the return of the game itself. As MLB considers which plan to execute as it looks to fulfill Manfred’s sanguine prediction of a return — in his email, he added: “[I]t is very difficult to predict with any accuracy the timeline for resumption of our season” — the league could be at odds with the MLB Players Association over player pay, according to sources.
Although an agreement between the sides on return to play exists and includes a section on players receiving prorated sums of their salaries, multiple owners have suggested that it could cost them more to play games than it would not to play them and said they believe the agreement between the sides could allow them to pursue pay cuts from players. Leadership among the players believes the deal explicitly outlines payment parameters for players and has said any discussion is a nonstarter.
Whether these are starting positions in a bargaining situation or intractable postures that could lead to contention as MLB tries to return will be revealed in the coming weeks. So, too, will the positions of some of the highest-profile franchises in sports as they figure out how to handle the futures of their employees.