Multiple reports have MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association discussing the proposal over the weekend. Under the terms of the MLB plan, spring training would be delayed by a month, with spring training launching on March 22 and the regular season beginning April 28 and ending Oct. 10, a week later than the current schedule. The current schedule has pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training around Feb. 16-17 and exhibition games beginning Feb. 27, with the regular season beginning April 1. We’d see expanded playoffs with 14 teams participating, seven-inning doubleheaders, a universal DH and a World Series running into the beginning of November.
If players do not sign off on the proposed changes, spring training and the regular season would launch on the original dates. MLB does not have the power to unilaterally impose a new 2021 season schedule.
As you’ll recall, MLB and the players association spent months debating the terms and parameters of the 2020 MLB season, with players ultimately agreeing to prorated salaries based on the shorter season. They’re not being asked to make a similar sacrifice this year: MLB is reportedly not asking for prorated salaries and will pay players salaries based on a full 162-game schedule.
The reason for the proposal is pretty simple: with COVID-19 rates declining nationally, a month delay would provide a better chance of more fans into the stands both for spring training and the regular season. Arizona is pacing the nation in COVID-19 positive tests, but that number has been declining in recent weeks, down 26 percent in the last week, and as vaccinations take hold, health experts see further declines in coming weeks. Citing research predicting a much lower rate of Maricopa County COVID-19 infections by mid-March, Cactus League city and tribal officials have asked for a month delay to the start of 2021 spring training.
Still, there are plenty of outstanding issues. One is MLB’s proposal to give Commissioner Rob Manfred to alter and shut down play in the case of another boost in COVID-19 rates, as different states and different counties have implemented different COVID-19 mitigation measures. California, for instance, has much more restrictive measures than do Arizona, Texas and Florida. Manfred wants the power to shut down play if five states mandate additional restrictions.
There would be some unintended consequences to this delay as well if MLB moves forward with its plan to run spring training in shifts: MLB/AAA players in the first shift and AA/A in the second shift, once the major leaguers break camp. That second shift could begin around April 28, which could push the beginning of the 2021 MiLB season to mid-May at the earliest–or even Memorial Day, as many owners are fearing. While no one is unhappy about losing April dates under the circumstances, such a late launch date would a hardship for an industry that saw little in the way of 2020 revenues.
As of now, the players association is expected to reject the current MLB proposal, perhaps as early as later today; it remains to be seen whether a counteroffer is forthcoming. And players are being told by the players association to prepare for February reporting dates to spring training.
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