Major League Baseball and its players’ union began formal talks Tuesday over the most contentious issue facing the sport in its last-ditch effort to get back on the field amid a global pandemic: how to compensate players for a shortened season that will almost certainly be played without fans.

And those talks, at least from the union’s perspective, did not go well.

In a virtual meeting that lasted about two hours, MLB’s negotiating team presented its union counterparts with its opening economic proposal ― which, notably, called for further reductions in salaries for players, with the largest cuts going to the highest-paid.

MLB Players Association officials came away from the session “extremely disappointed,” saying MLB’s proposed cuts were “massive,” according to a person familiar with the union’s stance. Those officials were also readying for the task of briefing the union’s 1,200 members and were not prepared to say what their next move would be.

In a statement, MLB said it “made a proposal to the union that is completely consistent with the economic realities facing our sport. We look forward to a responsive proposal from the MLBPA.”

The sides probably would need to reach agreement on economic issues — as well as on the complex health and safety protocols for dealing with the risks of the novel coronavirus — by early next week to open “spring training 2.0” in mid-June, with Opening Day on or around July 4. The person also characterized the sides as far apart on health and safety issues.

In its proposal Tuesday, MLB backed away from its idea of a 50-50 share of revenue for 2020, which it approved internally several weeks ago but never presented to the union. After MLB officials leaked details of that plan to reporters, the union rejected it as a non-starter, saying it was in effect a salary cap.

Instead, the centerpiece of Tuesday’s proposal was a sliding scale of pay cuts for players that would affect mostly those making the highest salaries. Owners claim they need financial concessions from the players to make playing games without fans economically feasible.

The union has maintained the issue of player compensation was settled in a March agreement that called for players to be paid prorated shares of their 2020 salaries based on the number of games played. MLB contends the March agreement pertained only to games played with fans, and that playing games in empty stadiums — without the associated revenue from ticket sales, concessions and parking — requires a different pay scale.

The union has resisted suggestions that players should accept a second pay cut, on top of the one agreed to in March, because players are the ones assuming much of the health risk by playing in 2020. The owners, in turn, have claimed they will suffer significant losses by playing games without fans unless the players agree to a reduction in salaries.

Under the owners’ proposal Tuesday, the details of which were first reported by USA Today and the New York Post, players at the bottom of baseball’s pay scale would see little or no further reduction to their salaries, while those at the upper end would see their 2020 earnings — which were already essentially halved for an 82-game season — halved a second time. Players in between would be grouped into tiers, with the pay cuts getting larger with each higher tier. ESPN reported a player whose contract was set to pay him $35 million this season instead would receive $7.84 million; a player making $1 million would get $434,000.

It is possible the union will see MLB’s proposal as an attempt to divide its membership. By the nature of baseball’s pay scale, there can be a 60-fold difference in salary between the lowest- and highest-paid players. There are far more players making $1 million or less than players making $15 million or more, but the union leadership is largely made up of veterans at the higher end of the pay scale.

“Interesting strategy of making the best [and] most marketable players potentially look like the bad guys,” Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson tweeted in reaction to MLB’s proposal.

New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman shared a similar sentiment: “This season is not looking promising.”

Many in the industry have speculated the deal ultimately could include deferrals on players’ salaries, which would help owners with cash flow in the short term. However, owners are already deferring portions of signing bonuses for 2020 draft picks, and some officials are worried about adding excessive debt to future seasons.

One area that could be subject to negotiation is the schedule. The union would like to play more than 82 games because it would mean more money for players, while MLB is proposing an expanded, 14-team playoffs to capitalize on higher revenue from television in the postseason. As part of its proposal Tuesday, MLB reportedly offered to share more postseason revenue with players.

Both sides are mindful that many experts are predicting a second coronavirus wave to hit in the fall, which has kept MLB from considering an expanded schedule that goes into November or even December.

In addition to economic issues, the sides still must work through the health and safety protocols for staging this season under government and public health guidelines that vary from state to state and city to city.

This month, MLB delivered a 67-page proposal to the union that covered issues ranging from testing to on-field social distancing guidelines that would govern play in 2020, and the union last week sent a response containing mostly questions, suggestions and requests for clarifications. Although that negotiation was considered less contentious than the economic one, there had been little or no progress made as of Tuesday.