Less than a month before players are set to report to Spring Training, Arizona’s Cactus League has submitted a formal request to commissioner Rob Manfred asking that the start of Spring Training be delayed due to the Covid-19 infection rate in Maricopa County (Twitter link via Brahm Resnick of 12 News in Arizona). The Cactus League itself does not have the authority to delay the start of Spring Training, but its formal request figures to elicit a response from the commissioner’s office.
“Amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Cactus League has formed a task force to ensure that our 10 spring training facilities are prepared to host the 2021 spring training season in a manner that is safe for all involved,” executive director Bridget Binsbacher wrote in a letter co-signed by nine other key members of the Cactus League. “We stand ready to work with you on the final preparation and outcome to begin the season. … But in the view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County — with one of the nation’s highest infection rates — we believe it wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the Covid-19 situation to improve here.”
The county’s appeal, however, doesn’t figure to have an effect on policy unless the players change their position – and on this issue they have been clear. In response to the letter from the Cactus League, the MLBPA released its own statement, reiterating their desire (and insistence) to start on time. “Although we have not received any communication directly, the MLBPA is aware of a letter that has been distributed today by the Cactus League Association,” the letter begins. It goes on to say, “The letter correctly notes that MLB does not have the ability to unilaterally make this decision.”
In negotiating the rules and conditions for the 2021 season, the MLBPA has been staunch in their desire to play a full season, which logistically necessitates a regularly-scheduled spring session under most if not all scenarios under consideration. For there to be any movement on the players’ part, owners and the league would have to account for the money that players would lose by delaying and truncating the season. This may be the players’ greatest point of leverage, and it’s not one they appear willing to compromise without considerable concessions on the league’s part. For what it’s worth, the NHL is currently active in Glendale with fans in the stands, notes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Glendale was one of the cities to sign the letter sent to the league.
There are basically two scenarios that could result in a delayed Spring Training. The first would be the local health crisis growing dire enough such that health officials mandate restrictions that conflict with the league’s ability to open camps. Considering the already-dire nature of the crisis at present, this isn’t considered a particularly likely outcome. The other possibility is the MLB and the MLBPA deciding together that a delay of camp is the proper course of action.