Baseball’s regular season will not be longer than 60 games this year.
But could it be 48? Or zero?
Those questions still need to be answered after yet another turbulent day for Major League Baseball that began with a COVID-19 outbreak at Phillies camp in Florida and closed with the owners finally drawing the line at 60 games — maximum.
“MLB has informed the [Players] Association that it will not respond to our last proposal and will not play more than 60 games,” the union said Friday in a statement. “Our executive board will convene in the near future to determine next steps. Importantly, players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.”
Of course, the “when and where” part — made famous by union chief Tony Clark last Saturday — still hasn’t been decided. It’s clear now, however, that commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners got fed up with the Players Association’s 70-game counterproposal Thursday, believing that a deal already had been agreed to in Arizona two days earlier.
Manfred, who had thought the 60-game framework was safely in place, quickly rejected the union’s counter and now can proceed to make a schedule independent of the union’s approval as long as the players are paid full prorated salaries. But because those 60 games were contingent upon a deal, MLB now could choose 50, or possibly go as low as 48.
And now the two sides have an even bigger threat to contend with: The coronavirus has surfaced at spring training sites, potentially forcing them into more stringent protocols.
Five weeks into these bitter negotiations, with the clock ticking on a resolution, the Phillies and Blue Jays shut down their spring training facilities Friday because of COVID-19 concerns as cases throughout Florida continue to skyrocket.
The Phillies announced that five players and three staffers tested positive this week, with another 32 members of the organization — 20 players and 12 staff — still waiting on test results. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that some family members also tested positive for COVID-19, but they were not included in the team’s official count.
“The Phillies are committed to the health and welfare of our players, coaches and staff as our highest priority,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said in a statement. “And as a result of these confirmed tests, all facilities in Clearwater have been closed indefinitely to all players, coaches and staff and will remain closed until medical authorities are confident that the virus is under control and our facilities are disinfected.”
The Blue Jays, whose Dunedin facility is roughly five miles from the Phillies’ site, sent one player to be tested after he exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, the team announced, and immediately shut down operations. According to ESPN, the player is a pitcher who recently spent time with Phillies minor-leaguers.
The San Francisco Giants’ facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, was shut after one person who had been to the site and one family member exhibited symptoms Thursday.
Florida and Arizona, the two spring training states, are experiencing dramatic spikes in COVID-19 cases, and late Friday night, MLB closed all of the training camps for deep cleaning. Testing will be required for admittance when they reopen, a source confirmed.
Florida set another daily record Friday with 3,822 new cases, according to the state’s department of health, a significant jump from 3,207 a day earlier and doubling the record from just a week ago (1,902). Tampa mayor Jane Castor also put a mandatory mask order into effect Friday.
Steinbrenner Field is roughly 16 miles from the Phillies’ spring training site, and Tampa is developing into a hot zone for the coronavirus. The NHL’s Lightning closed down their facility after multiple players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. The NFL’s Buccaneers — whose stadium borders the Yankees’ minor-league complex — had an assistant coach test positive and put two other members of the organization under quarantine.
Many teams, including the Yankees and Mets, intended to use their Florida camps for spring training 2.0, but they could be forced to train at their home ballparks instead. Newsday’s Erik Boland reported Thursday that the Yankees are considering a switch to the Bronx, and a source confirmed Friday that the Mets could opt to use Citi Field.
It is unclear what impact the Phillies’ outbreak will have on MLB’s return-to-play negotiations, but the two sides definitely have more work to do on the health and safety protocols now.
As for dealing with positive COVID-19 cases, the plan currently included in the 67-game manual calls for isolating the infected personnel but continuing with the season, short of a significant outbreak.
The sport likely is another 10 days away from the potential start date for spring training, and the extent of the Phillies’ outbreak, along with the possibility of more Blue Jays cases, still is unknown.
The Phillies ended Friday’s statement on a rather ominous note:
“In terms of the implications of this outbreak on the Phillies’ 2020 season, the club declines comment, believing that it is too early to know.”