Sadly, we could all see this coming.
On Saturday, the Major League Baseball Players Association sent Major League Baseball a letter in which it stated: "If it is your intention to unilaterally impose a season, we again request that you inform us and our members of how many games you intend to play and when and where players should report.''
This came just a day after yet another proposal form MLB was presented, with more clever accounting, but with details that don't differ greatly from the last three. In every one of them, the players would end up being guaranteed roughly a third of their scheduled 2020 full salaries, and with MLB paying out somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.4 billion.
Eventually, the MLBPA got tired of the charade. On Saturday, they essentially said: "This is what you've wanted all along. Now, kindly give us the details.''
It's been patently obvious for a while now that the owners and commissioner Rob Manfred have but one strategy: to run out the negotiating clock until such time when it becomes feasible for them to implement a shorter schedule of their own determination.
(Owners earned this right in negotiations with the Players Association in March, likely in exchange, in part, for the advance of $170 million to the PA.)
It will likely be in the neighborhood of 50-something games, for two reasons. First, as has already been demonstrated, owners prefer the shortest regular season possible because it's their contention that they will lose money without paying customers in attendance. Secondly, the owners don't want the season going past the original Sept. 27 end date, out of fear that a second wave of the coronavirus would imperil the postseason - the time of year most profitable for them.
I've written before that a 50-something game schedule would be a bastardized season. Is it better than nothing? Sure, in the sense that one black eye is better than two. But not my much.
Yes, the game will return, which beats it disappearing until next spring (at minimum) and spares the sport the embarrassment of being the lone game that couldn't figure a way to put its differences aside during a pandemic.
But that's establishing a very low bar, one which baseball will apparently barely clear.
So, yes, there will be baseball. Eventually. But it will come a price.
Once Manfred, with the backing of owners, unilaterally implement a shortened schedule, the nastiness will commence. The players, who will feel ordered back to work, though, to be clear, their union provided MLB with this loophole.
In effect, the players will be forced to play the season (or forfeit salary and service time) on the owners' terms. The notion of a 48-game season (or 50- or 54-) will have the effect of the players feeling like it was forced on then. And they'll respond predictably and accordingly: