Another COVID-19 outbreak already has wiped out the possibility of spring training in Arizona and Florida.
Now Major League Baseball is growing more concerned about the virus also sabotaging the season, and commissioner Rob Manfred offered a few contingencies on Sunday to the Players Association, which in turn chose to delay its vote on the 60-game proposal, according to a source.
The union originally had planned to vote Sunday on what was framed as MLB’s final offer, and the expectation was that it would be rejected, clearing the way for Manfred to impose a schedule independent of the players’ approval.
But with teams retreating from their spring training sites over the weekend because of the coronavirus surge, and renewed fears of the season being in jeopardy, Manfred removed the 2021 attachments in the current proposal for the expanded playoffs and universal DH if the schedule isn’t completed this year.
That way, the union won’t feel as if it bargained away next season for nothing if this one isn’t finished. But that still doesn’t seem like enough for an agreement, not after the players have been so adamant about cramming in as many games possible at their prorated salaries.
Clearly, Manfred still wants to make a deal, as an agreement would give the owners the lucrative payday of the expanded playoffs, erase the possibility of a grievance and presumably result in better cooperation from the playersl going forward.
Manfred also tried a common-sense appeal to Clark in a Sunday letter, saying, “I really believe we are fighting over an impossibility on games,” according to The Athletic. By Manfred’s estimation, the earliest report date for spring training is June 29, and with roughly three weeks of workouts, that would leave approximately 66 days to play 60 games, given that MLB wants to end the regular season on Sept. 27.
On Thursday, the Players Association made a 70-game counterproposal that immediately was turned down by Manfred. The commissioner now seems to think that even splitting the difference, to 65, no longer fits in a logical timeframe. The union has argued that the regular season can be pushed into October, but MLB has vehemently refused to consider doing so, based on what their own medical experts tell them about the danger of a second wave of the coronavirus prematurely ending the schedule.
Right now, the problem is the first wave. The Northeast has stabilized, but many other states are experiencing record numbers of cases and hospitalizations. Unlike the NBA and NHL, which are trying “bubble” plans to squeeze in their playoffs, MLB intends to play a regionalized schedule, with limited travel, and that is shaping up to be incredibly challenging because of the unpredictable nature of this pandemic.
Even Manfred's suggestion that spring training be started next week feels like a very ambitious scenario, given the fact that clubs just abandoned their spring training sites Friday. MLB already had explored the option of teams using their home ballparks in the 67-page pandemic operations manual, so it wasn’t a total shock that it became necessary. But clubs still need to get up to speed with the concept, considering that these regular-season stadiums aren’t equipped for spring training and this is something teams never had to do before.
Either way, players seem to have a lot more to think about since their 70-game proposal was rejected Friday. That’s led to yet another delay in these negotiations, which now have stretched for more than five weeks.