SEATTLE – For the span of about 48 hours, former major league third baseman and current radio host Trevor Plouffe lived the gantlet of social-media life. He started out as a news breaker, tweeting Monday: “I just heard from multiple sources that on June 10th, Spring Training 2 will start. July 1st will be Opening Day and all teams will be playing at their home ballparks.”
That was followed by his “scoop” being shrugged off by plenty of people working in baseball and several who cover it. He took the criticism and doubled down on his belief in his sources.
By Wednesday evening, Plouffe had some measure of redemption as multiple outlets, including ESPN’s Jeff Passan, The New York Post’s Joel Sherman and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, reported that Major League Baseball will submit a plan to the Major League Baseball Players Association sometime in the next week about reopening the 2020 season after it was shut down by the spread of the novel coronavirus, with teams opening a second spring training in early June with the hope of starting the season on July 1 or shortly thereafter.
Passan reported, using several agents, players and baseball executives as sources, that “general managers and managers from at least dozen teams have reached out to players and suggested they ramp up all baseball activities.” Of those teams, some used the dates mentioned by Plouffe while others used general timetables because set dates could lead to complications if something were to be delayed.
Rosenthal reported that one of those teams that used the July 1 opening-day date was the Cleveland Indians, who informed players via Zoom call. But team officials also told him that those were “target” dates.
The actual details of MLB’s reopening plan are not yet known. The once-proposed sequestration of all 30 teams to Arizona seems to have been pushed aside because players don’t want to be forced away from their families for four months. It received heavy criticism from some of the game’s biggest stars such as Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw.
The idea of three- to five-team hubs in certain cities also doesn’t seem to have much traction because the logistics of setting those situations up are difficult, particularly with some of those states like Texas and Florida seeing upticks in the number of positive tests.
The belief is that players would prefer to play the season in their home stadiums if possible, allowing them to see their families. The plan of three 10-team divisions separated into geographical locations seems to be plausible. And there is also a proposal for teams to hold their spring training 2.0 in their home cities instead of returning to Arizona or Florida sites.
There are obviously complications to any plan. The circumstances of each state in terms of the number of cases and how it is trending, official guidelines and shelter-in-place rules would also have an impact. Washington’s reopening is in the earliest of phases and the Mariners would be violating Gov. Jay Inslee’s shelter-in-place order by having practices at T-Mobile Park.
MLB would need strict guidelines to be followed with an advanced testing policy. As of now, it might not even have the resources to make it work. If all 30 teams brought in 50 players, along with staffs of around 40-50 people, that’s roughly 3,000 tests needed with more in place for weekly to biweekly testing.
Add in the factors of travel to other places with hotel stays, contact with family, who won’t be quarantined at all times, and the unpredictability of the coronavirus and it seems impossible. If a second wave of coronavirus kicks up in October, what happens next? There will need to be contingencies in place for possible problems that might arise. Any plan would likely have to be approved by federal and state governments and their health officials.
So why start looking at a plan now? Both sides know that approving any plan won’t be easy. It rarely is for the two sides. The money factor is real. While players want to play games and get paychecks and teams want to have games for fans and TV deals, there is still going to be a clash about salary.
The MLBPA, led by Tony Clark, believes the prior agreement in March stipulates that players are guaranteed a prorated version of their 2020 salary based on games played. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners point to the stipulation that the agreement, specifically on player salary, could be amended under the circumstances of fans not being allowed into games.
It’s almost certain the 2020 season will be played in empty stadiums. And some owners from small-market teams have complained that the lack of gate receipts, concessions and in-game purchases won’t make it viable to pay players’ salaries. Clark told the AP recently: “That negotiation is over.”
Agreeing to a plan could be a weekslong process, which is why getting one on the table to start the negotiating process is key. Given the economic climate, fans will be turned off by billionaires and millionaires haggling over money. It’s an image baseball needs to avoid.
Is baseball coming back? So many things are setting up for it to happen. But as we saw when baseball and the sports world shut down almost immediately in the span of two days, there is no certainty now.
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