The proposal is expected to come within a week, a person familiar with MLB’s dialogue with the MLB Players Association confirmed. News of the expected proposal was first reported Wednesday by ESPN and the New York Post.
MLB would prefer to stage a three-week “spring training 2.0” in June and start playing games in July, a time frame it has been targeting for several weeks but one that would require ample lead time to allow teams and players to begin mobilizing — which is why the process is beginning now.
However, the proposal hardly changes the difficult calculus confronting the sport, which was effectively shut down by the novel coronavirus pandemic March 12, two weeks before its scheduled Opening Day. The targeted June/July dates remain only a distant hope dependent on significant, thorny issues both outside and within baseball’s control.
Most importantly, the fate of the 2020 season is at the mercy of the public health situation. Enough states and cities must open back up to make a competitive season feasible, and enough tests must be made available to implement a strict testing regimen without diverting resources from the general public.
Baseball would like to stage games, without fans if necessary, at teams’ home stadiums — rather than in one or more centralized hubs — but different states and cities are at different stages in terms of both the containment of the coronavirus and their governments’ plans to ease restrictions.
Another major obstacle is negotiating the financial terms with the players’ union, an issue that increasingly looms as a potential roadblock. The union contends the agreement the sides reached in March locked in a prorated scale that would pay players based on the number of games contested; MLB contends that agreement pertained only to games with fans and that games without fans require a different formula to account for the loss of revenue from tickets, concessions, parking and other on-site streams.
There also would be rule changes to discuss, including the potential for a universal designated hitter, expanded rosters and an automated strike zone (to better facilitate social distancing between catchers and home plate umpires).
Finally, even as they contemplate best-case scenarios, the sides would also need to account for worst-case ones, such as what to do if one or more players tests positive for the coronavirus.
But for there to be baseball in 2020, the process needed to begin at some point. And if there is any faint hope of a midsummer launch, that point is very soon.
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