Major League Baseball, like many sports leagues, is on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. Spring training was halted in March and 2020 Opening Day has been pushed back indefinitely. The good news is MLB and the MLBPA will soon begin the process of planning the 2020 season.
It'll take some time -- there will be proposals and counter-proposals and counter-counter-proposals, and maybe some animosity as well -- but the process will begin soon. CBS Sports HQ's Jim Bowden confirmed that the league will meet Monday to discuss a proposal, with MLB expected to submit a plan to the union on Tuesday. Joel Sherman of the New York Post adds that representatives from each team will also conduct a Monday conference call with commissioner Rob Manfred.
Details of MLB's restart plan proposal are beginning to emerge. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported several general parameters on Saturday. Here are the nuts and bolts:
- A truncated season of 80 or so games beginning in early July. Teams would only face division rivals and the same geographic division in the other league to keep games regional.
- Teams would open the season in as many home parks as possible. That will cut down on travel and allow players and personnel to easily isolate at home with their families.
- An expanded postseason format would send seven teams to the playoffs per league. The plan would be similar to an idea floated back during the offseason.
- Sherman adds that, per sources, the DH will be used in both leagues in order to spare pitchers from additional fatigue and wear and tear.
MLB is expected to propose a further pay reduction for players to account for the revenue lost by playing without fans in attendance. Some specifics from MLB Network's Jon Heyman:
Owners will seek less than prorated pay for players, and in fact are adamant they will not pay prorated $, saying losses would be too steep. One possible proposal: a 50/50 revenue split. Players side’s been adamant about prorated $ (half pay for 81 games). Something has to give.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 10, 2020
That, and the health concerns, figure to be the main point of contention between MLB and the MLBPA. The players already agreed to prorated salaries back in March and do not want to take further pay cuts. "That negotiation is over," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said recently.
"The way our sport works is we are not tied to revenue in any way," Cardinals reliever and MLBPA executive board member Andrew Miller told ESPN. "If the owners hit a home run and make more money, we don't go back and ask for more on our end. Ultimately this isn't about money. We need to find a way to safely get our players on the field in a safe manner and control that. I would hope this [finances] doesn't turn into anything regarding that stuff."
Obviously, any plans would have to be subject to change, even once the season begins. Teams could begin at home, but if there is a COVID-19 outbreak somewhere, the local club may have to play elsewhere. Also, all travelers to Canada are subject to a 14-day quarantine, which could create headaches for the Blue Jays and their opponents. Testing would have to easily accessible as well.
Various neutral-site plans, including one that would drop teams into one of three hubs (Arizona, Florida, Texas), are no longer seen as viable candidates for the season. Those plans are logistical nightmares, plus players do not want to be away from their families for long stretches of time. The same is true of the coaches, umpires, and everyone else in the baseball bubble.
Starting the season in early July would require an abbreviated spring training to begin no later than mid-June. It is expected teams will have expanded rosters this season primarily to protect pitchers, who have to ramp up their throwing after slowing down during the pandemic. Once MLB submits its proposal, the MLBPA will counter, and there figure to be several rounds of negotiating after that.