TAYLOR COUNTY—Although a significant number of obstacles remain and many industry leaders believe that a June and/or July return date is overly optimistic, Major League Baseball expects to propose a “return-to-play” offer to the MLB Players’ Association within a week, as teams have begun to encourage players to prepare for a preseason training that could begin in mid-June and a season that could start in early July.
Owners approval of a plan and communication about the specifics with the union would mark two more crucial steps toward baseball’s return from a season that has been delayed six weeks by COVID-19.
The front office of at least a dozen teams have reached out to players to suggest that they begin to establish more intense baseball activities in preparation for a season. Some teams have even suggested that players should prepare for a spring training that could begin as early as June 10th and a regular season that could begin around July 1st. Other teams are being more relaxed with their timetables, understanding the complications that concrete dates may cause and instead, are more concerned about their players coming back to the stadium in game shape.
Many players have already been working out at team facilities around the country, and the possibility of holding a three-to-four-week spring training at the teams’ home stadiums appeals to several people. After the idea of quarantining players in Arizona or using city hubs to hold games fizzled out, there is now excitement that the league may try to play games in home stadiums.
New problems could still arise, however, with a coronavirus outbreak in a city, but concerns aren’t nearly what they were in the relation to the building of the hubs. Three player representatives, who have been sending consistent updates to the MLB union, believe that the union would be more willing to agree to such a plan because players could spend half their games at home with their families.
On the flipside of the proposal, owners have suggested that league ask players to take a pay cut because of the lack of revenue that would result from fans not being allowed in stadiums upon any type of return. Players have agreed to be paid a prorated portion of their salaries based upon games played, in an agreement between the union and the league.
During a video call with Cleveland Indians players, however, a question was asked that may throw all previous optimistic viewpoints out the window. What happens if we come back and a player tests positive?
Returning to play during the current situation does pose risks to players, and multiple players have reached out to the union to ask what would happen if they decided not to play in 2020 out of fear for their health or rather, a desire to be with their families during the crisis.
Those questions and others are simply part of the unknown. And not only does MLB need approval from the owners and players to start this season, but also approval from officials at the White House and other top health officials. MLB has already been in contact with federal and state officials, seeking guidance as it navigates towards the start of a new season.
Multiple executives have stated that as many as 50 players could be available for teams to use and that they would have an active roster of up to 30 players available for each game. If the season started in July, the length could be anywhere from 80 to 100 games. A normal season consists of 162 games.
Front office personnel and others fear that a second wave of coronavirus could hit, which some health officials previously forecasted, and believe that instead of playing into late November, with an expanded playoff format, MLB would be better off playing a shorter season that would give the league a greater chance of avoiding potential issues.