Mazz: As owners and players flail, the magic number for MLB looks like $1.5 billion

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

So what we know now, without a doubt, is that the Major League Baseball owners have a number. And it isn’t based on games played or percentages. It’s based on dollars.

Shocker.

According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, MLB has “discussed” playing a shorter schedule of somewhere in the range of 50 games, though the owners have not yet made the players a proposal. According to the report, such a proposal would be a “last resort” if owners and players cannot come to terms on an agreement that would allow them to play the 2020 season  in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under that last-ditch scenario, players would be paid a full, pro-rated portion of their salaries, which now makes the math quite easy.

In 2019, according to reports, MLB players made in the range of $4.58 billion. A prorated portion of that number based on a 50-game schedule comes to $1.4 billion, which now tells us everything we need to know.

For the owners of MLB teams, allowing a little more room for negotiation, the drop-dead number to play this season is somewhere in the range of $1.5 billion. That is what they will pay players – again, it’s an estimate – or the season won’t be played at all.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MARCH 26: General view outside of Chase Field on March 26, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves were scheduled to play a Major League Baseball opening day game tonight, which was postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Mazz: has baseball found a 'magic number' for an agreement between players and owners? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The best guess now? That the owners want to end up with a 54-game schedule – exactly one-third of a major league season – so that they can minimize losses in the regular season and then cash in during October.

If all of this bores you, that’s entirely understandable. But if you want baseball this season, it’s important to understand the back and forth here. Players have been arguing for their full salaries, albeit on a prorated basis, dependent entirely on the number of games they play. The owners instead made an offer last week for additional, massive pay cuts over an 82-game schedule, a laughable proposal that prompted players to ask for more games – 114, to be exact – which meant more money.

So what are the owners seemingly replying with now? Fine, we’ll give you prorated salaries. But no way we’re playing 114 games. We’ll give you 50. And I’m willing to bet that if someone smarter than me did the math, it would show that the owners first proposal and the alleged second one are worth about the same - $1.5 billion.

In the end, here’s the likely conclusion: baseball discussions are reaching a critical stage. Do the sides want to play or don’t they? And with the way owners have positioned themselves, they have now angled the players into a position where they can blame any failings on the players and their union.

Don’t believe that, of course.

Because when it comes to fouling up a baseball season, major league owners and players were clearly meant for each other.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.