Major League Baseball had 40 players and staff members test positive for COVID-19 in the past week, creating a sense of urgency in labor negotiations between the owners and players, according to two persons with direct knowledge of the situation.
They spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The players postponed their vote Sunday whether to accept or reject MLB’s plan for a 60-game season with full pro-rated play after commissioner Rob Manfred telephoned union chief Tony Clark and e-mailed tweaks to MLB’s last proposal.
MLB still is offering 60 games, guaranteeing the players about $1.5 billion, but the recent surge of positive tests now will further delay the start season. The resumption of spring training now will be no earlier than June 29, with the season starting July 26. The two sides had agreed the season would start July 19 in their last exchange of proposals.
"I really believe we are fighting over an impossibility on games,’’ Manfred said to Clark in his e-mail obtained by USA TODAY Sports. "The earliest we will be ready for players to report is a week from Monday [June 29] given the need to relocate teams from Florida. That leaves 66 days to play 60 games. Realistically, that is the outside of the envelope now.’’
A view of an empty Dodger Stadium on what was scheduled to be opening day.orts
The fear among the union and players is that while they have been assured of receiving their full pro-rated salary, COVID-19 could force the season to be shortened to less than 60 games, further reducing their pay.
If the season is shortened, Manfred promised to Clark that the postseason would not be expanded from 10 teams to 16 teams in 2021, and that the DH would not be used in the National League in 2021.
Manfred also promised Clark that players on non-guaranteed contracts who are released during spring training, and who were salary-arbitration eligible in 2019, will receive full termination pay.
If the two sides are unable to reach a deal this week, Manfred is expected to simply mandate a season of 54 to 60 games.
Positive tests in the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees’ camps in the Tampa area forced MLB to shut down all of the spring-training facilities. Every team, with the possible exception of the Toronto Blue Jays, will now have spring training at their own home ballparks, according to a high-ranking official.
The official spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because not every team has publicly announced its decision.
MLB, recognizing that possibility the season can't be completed, offered to cancel their plans for an expanded postseason and universal DH in 2021, if the season is shorter than 60 games, two persons with direct knowledge confirmed to USA TODAY Sports.
MLB and the union still are finalizing health and safety protocols, but have agreed on a radical change to extra-inning games, and may even permit games to end in a tie.
Regular season games that enter extra innings will now start with a runner on base beginning in the 10th inning. In the postseason, games will revert to traditional rules.
It’s possible the extra-inning rule will become permanent, but the union agreed to change the rule for only 2020.
The union also wants to discuss with MLB the possibility of tie games in lengthy extra-inning games, as well as permitting free substitution, such as allowing players to re-enter the game, among other possibilities.
MLB and the union already agreed to implement a universal DH in 2020 and 2021, as well as expanding the postseason to as many as 16 teams.
Also, in their latest exchange, the union is asking that players who cohabitate with "high-risk’’ individuals, including a spouse who’s pregnant, would also have the right to opt out of the 2020 season, and still receive their prorated salary and full-service time.
MLB has already agreed to allow "high-risk’’ players to COVID-19 to opt out and still be paid. Other players who aren’t considered "high risk’’ can still opt out, but won’t be paid or receive service time. Two of the game’s biggest stars, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, have wives who are pregnant, and due this summer.