Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focused on a plan that can enable them to start the season as early as May and have the support of high federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid a coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.
Although the plan has a number of potential stumbling blocks, it has emerged above other options as the most likely to work and has been embraced by the leadership of the MLB and MLB Players Association, supported by the possibility of baseball returning and the support of federal officials, sources said.
The plan, said the source, would be to determine that all 30 teams played in a fanless stadium in the greater Phoenix area, including Arizona Diamondbacks‘Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and possibly other nearby fields. Players, coaching staff and other key personnel will be exiled at local hotels, where they will stay in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institute of Health have supported plans that will adhere to strict isolation, promote social distance and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.
The May return date depends on a number of concerns that are being ruled out, and some officials believe that the opening day of June could be more realistic, sources said. Most important is a significant increase in coronavirus tests that are available with fast turnaround times, according to sources familiar with the plan, which will occur in early May and allow MLB testing to not reduce access to the general public.
While health officials see MLB players as low-risk candidates for problems related to COVID-19 because of their age and health, putting protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of older managers, coaches, referees and other personnel will be crucial to the work plan, said source.
The logistics of carrying out such a plan would be huge and complicated on the league side and require purchases from players, whose sources hope to separate from their families for an unlimited time – maybe for 4½ months, if the inability to stem the coronavirus outbreak prevents the team plays in their home stadium in 2020.
However, there is hope between leadership on both sides that the combination of receiving a salary for playing and the return of baseball provides a respite for countries affected by the destruction of COVID-19 will convince the players to agree to the plan, said the source.
For weeks, high-ranking federal health officials and baseball officials have discussed the feasibility of the plan, said the source. On Saturday, top officials with MLBPA spoke with health officials who offered the plan as the clearest way for baseball to start over, according to sources. The league and unions began discussing the plan in several telephone calls on Monday, sources said. With uncertainty as to how long the coronavirus pandemic will affect the United States, the isolation option jumped to the forefront of the league’s possibility, the source said.
Obstacles go far beyond testing and fearing players to separate from their families. MLB and MLBPA, sources said, hope to discuss this week about the economics of the plan, in which the league will forget the gate of revenue which accounts for the largest proportion of its annual income that exceeds $ 10 billion. The league can make extra money by adding games to its national television portfolio, with networks that are likely to jump on live programming because other sports remain closed because of coronaviruses, sources said.
If the league and union agree an agreement, sources say, it will greatly increase the likelihood that the team descends in the Phoenix area in May, provided logistical problems – securing strong corona virus testing, lodging, security, transportation and various other things – can be solved. After a training camp of two to three weeks, as long as the protocol will be tested and repeated, MLB can consider starting its regular season, sources said.
While the possibility of a player or staff member conducting a positive test for the corona virus exists, even in a safe setting, officials do not believe that a positive test alone will quarantine the entire team or close the season, sources said. The plan could include teams that carry significantly expanded rosters to take into account the possibility of players testing positive despite being isolated, also to ward off heat in Phoenix, which can be a problem during the summer, sources said. The allure of more players potentially receiving major league salaries and service times will be very attractive to the union, according to sources.
Both sides recognize the uniqueness of the season will not be limited to stadium location or list size. Among the possibilities that have been discussed between people from both sides, although not in talks on Monday, according to sources:
• Apply electronic attack zones to allow plate referees to maintain adequate distance from the catcher and the batter
• There are no mound visits from the catcher or throwing trainer
• Seven-inning double breeders, with a start date earlier than expected can allow baseball to approach the full season of 162 matches
• Regular use of the microphone on the ground by the player, as an added bonus for TV viewers
• Sitting in an empty space 6 feet apart – recommended social space – not in the break room
Each option, although far from certain, will likely be bound in the coming days because the feasibility of the plan for everyone involved is formed.
Money discussion is not only between the league and players but also between teams. Because local television contracts vary significantly by market – more than $ 100 million per year separating top and bottom local TV deals – those who depend on gate revenues can seek a one-year change to revenue sharing plans among 30 teams.
The two parties also need to determine how many people will stay in the sports bubble mentioned along with field and medical personnel, and whether it will include front office officials, scouts, video and media personnel, among others, sources said.
As a consequence and complicated possibility of some challenges that may occur, sources say the league and unions are motivated to make the plan work because they realize the alternative might be worse for both parties: there are no balls at all in 2020.
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