MLB says it must consider alternate 2020 plans; owners won’t budge from 60-game proposal

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LOS ANGELES — On a day three major league teams shut their training facilities amid coronavirus outbreaks in Arizona and Florida, league officials acknowledged the need to consider alternate plans for staging a potential 2020 season.

Major league owners also told the players’ union they would not move off the 60-game season proposed Wednesday and would not make a counterproposal to the union’s 70-game offer of Thursday. That could set the stage for owners to implement a season of whatever length they like, perhaps as few as 48 games, with players reporting to a second spring training by the end of the month and the season starting on or about July 20.

In a statement, the union said it would consider “next steps.” The two sides could resume talks, as players would have to approve the expanded postseason owners would like for additional television revenue over the next two seasons.

“Importantly, players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Under a March 26 agreement, Commissioner Rob Manfred has the authority to set the schedule — or to cancel the season entirely, as he has suggested he might do. The players could counter by filing a grievance, playing out the season while trying to persuade an arbitrator that MLB failed to negotiate in good faith, since owners previously had proposed seasons of as long as 82 games. In a grievance, Manfred has said, the union had threatened to pursue about $1 billion in damages.

The players collectively would earn about $1.2 billion over 48 games, about $1.5 billion over 60 games, and about $1.76 billion over 70 games. The difference between a season of 60 games or the midpoint at 65 games is about $4.15 million per team.

After Manfred met with union chief Tony Clark on Tuesday, Manfred and the owners believed they had a deal for a 60-game season, with players making the prorated salaries provided in that agreement. In a statement, Clark said it was “unequivocally false” that the two sides had reached a deal and said Manfred had “invited a counterproposal for more games.”

The league and the players’ union have yet to resolve what has become a bitter and protracted negotiation over the financial terms of the season. But the venue plan — each team plays its own home ballpark — might be overtaken by how rapidly the virus spreads through various regions around the country.

On Friday, the San Francisco Giants closed their Arizona training facility while Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies closed their Florida complexes. The Phillies said five players and three staff members have tested positive; the Blue Jays said a player had shown symptoms of the virus; the Giants said that a visitor had shown symptoms.

The Tampa Bay Lightning also closed their training facility after three players tested positive. So did a Toronto Maple Leafs player training in Arizona, and several Arizona Coyotes players who trained with him, according to the Toronto Sun.

MLB would be more concerned if the majority of teams planned to hold a second spring training at their training sites in Arizona and Florida, a league official said. For now, with most teams planning to convene at their home ballparks, the league would have about a month to determine whether the format of the regular season should be changed.

“We’ll be able to pivot if we need to pivot,” the official said. “Right now, that’s not under consideration.”

Coronavirus cases are on the rise in states that are home to nine of the 10 teams that would comprise MLB’s Western Region this season. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Los Angeles Times this week that MLB should aim to complete its season before October.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus.

The Wall Street Journal suggested Friday that MLB could consider a bubble format in Southern California, using Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium and Petco Park as hubs. The union has agreed to a bubble format in order to complete the postseason, but star players such as Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout have led the players’ resistance to live in isolation for an entire season.

In Los Angeles County, and in the state of California, record-high case counts were recorded this week. In Orange County, case counts and hospitalizations went up this week even as testing counts went down.

“COVID is becoming front and center,” the MLB official said. “This may all be resolved for us.”


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