As Major League Baseball readies a proposal for the Players Association regarding the resumption of play, ESPN’s Jeff Passan highlights some of the additional hurdles to clear. Notably, Passan indicates that some players have inquired with the union about what would happen if they opted not to play in 2020 due to fear regarding their own health or their desire to remain with family amid a global health crisis.
Both are understandable concerns; there are, after all, numerous players in Major League Baseball with underlying medical conditions that make them higher-risk cases. Players with diabetes or asthma and those who’ve overcome battles with cancer, for instance, could have reservations about returning to play — just as players who have higher-risk family members will also have increased trepidation. Nationals lefty Sean Doolittle spoke with The Athletic’s Jayson Stark this week about his wife’s acute asthma, which has in the past “flared up and manifested as pneumonia,” resulting in hospitalization. (To be clear, there’s no indication that Doolittle has inquired about opting not to play in 2020, but his case nonetheless stands out as a salient example of concerns that numerous players throughout the league surely harbor.)
There’s also, of course, the matter of economics. It’s been well documented at this point that the league’s owners will push for further reduction in player salary now that it’s clear fans won’t be in attendance for at least the early portion of the season (quite likely longer than that). Negotiations on that front had not formally begun as of yesterday, Newsday’s David Lennon reports. Presumably, the league’s plan with regard to player salary will be included in whatever proposal is produced, but as Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote last night, it’s unlikely that the MLBPA will simply agree to whatever scale is initially suggested.
As for what the game itself could look like, Passan writes that some executives believe active rosters could carry as many as 30 players, while teams will more broadly have a pool of about 50 players apiece available to them. The specifics of such an arrangement would need to be ironed out. Still, some type of unique setup figures to be a necessity, given the unlikelihood of a standard minor league structure being in place for the 2020 season.
The looming question of how to proceed if a player or players test positive remains an unaddressed elephant in the room. Doolittle touched on the topic in his interview with Stark, noting the rapid manner in which any disease typically spreads through a big league clubhouse. “…[W]e’re in such close proximity, it’s impossible to enforce social distancing measures in a clubhouse when you’re trying to play a Major League Baseball season and prepare for games,” the veteran lefty said. Expanded active rosters would only further crowd things beyond the norm.
Obstacles notwithstanding, Doolittle and seemingly everyone else in the game is hopeful of reaching some type of agreement. Teams have indeed “encouraged” players to prep for a June training camp of sorts, Passan writes, though no specific dates are in place. And via Lennon, Yankees president Randy Levine said in a radio appearance on 1010 WINS that he believes the league is “moving closer to finalizing a plan” in spite of the murky economic picture:
The economics are really important, but we have to deal with the reality of the economics. Obviously, television isn’t the whole ballgame as far as the financial economics of the game. Sometimes you’ve got to play the games, play ball, and there are more important things than economics.
Whatever arrangement is proposed or agreed upon, it’s crucial to remember that it’ll be largely tentative in nature. The public health landscape is rapidly changing, and little can be set in stone so far in advance. Many fans have grown weary of conditional updates and the lack of a clear plan to proceed, but any decisions made will continue to be subject to abrupt change. That sentiment is surely at the root of the league’s recent pushback against the June 10 Spring Training and July 1 opener dates that Trevor Plouffe relayed on Twitter after hearing from friends on active rosters. As the league plans for a best-case scenario, it’s also keenly aware that the actuality could (or more likely will) look different from its optimistic outline.