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MLB owners approve plan to start baseball season in July, but haven’t addressed player safety and payment

Fenway Park has sat dormant since the baseball season was delayed due to coronavirus.
Fenway Park has sat dormant since the baseball season was delayed due to coronavirus.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

Major League Baseball owners approved a proposal Monday that would fundamentally change the sport when the season opens in early July.

A new regionalized schedule of 82 games would take place in empty ballparks, at least initially, with 30-man rosters and the designated hitter in use for all games, two people familiar with the plan told the Globe.

Teams would stay largely within their time zone to cut down on travel and the preference is for clubs to use their home parks. Some games could be played at spring training sites or neutral ballparks because of coronavirus guidelines in different states.

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The World Series champion would be crowned in October after an expanded 14-team playoff.

The plan also calls for spring training to resume in June for roughly two weeks.

With ownership on board, the proposal will now go to the MLB Players Association. Negotiations to construct a final agreement could start as soon as Tuesday.

Two issues are seen as potential hurdles: health and safety protocols for players and how much players would get paid with a reduced schedule.

Of the two, the safety concerns could prove to be more difficult to overcome given all the variables associated with travel and the governmental approval needed in different locales.

Red Sox players J.D. Martinez and Alex Verdugo said last week that how MLB plans to test players, coaches, and team staffers was their primary worry about starting the season.

“Everyone would need to get tested — players, coaches, the media, security guards,” Martinez said. “If you come in the ballpark, you get tested. I’m not an expert on this virus, but you need daily testing.”

According to USA Today and the Associated Press, owners have proposed a 50-50 split of revenue with the players from the abbreviated season. That would address ownership losing proceeds from ticket sales, concessions, souvenirs, luxury boxes, and parking. That is an estimated 40 percent of gross revenues for most teams, the rest coming largely from television and radio deals.

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The union has long equated revenue sharing of any kind with a salary cap, something it philosophically opposes.

So what's next for Rob Manfred?
So what's next for Rob Manfred?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The union also could seek more than 82 games, which would increase how much its members are paid. But MLB is concerned that playing games beyond October would be a problem with some analysts predicting the virus could surge again in the fall.

The proposed schedule would have teams playing only opponents within their division from each league to cut down on travel, and allow teams to travel more often by bus. For the Red Sox, that would mean games against the Blue Jays, Braves, Orioles, Marlins, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Rays, and Yankees.

A revamped schedule also could include series of five or six games to reduce travel days and potential exposure to the virus.

Given current restrictions on traveling to Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays could, at least initially, play home games at their spring training park in Dunedin, Fla.

Baseball was shut down March 12, two weeks before the end of spring training. Players have been working out with limited supervision in the weeks since. Expanded rosters would allow teams to more cautiously use players, particularly pitchers, once the season starts.

Teams also would have a group of 20 “taxi squad” players available in place of the usual minor league system.

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It is increasingly unlikely there will be a minor league season beyond games being played at spring training sites.

The All-Star Game, which was scheduled for July 14 at Dodger Stadium, is likely to be canceled.

Flexibility will be a key given the uncertainty surrounding the virus and what have been state-by-state procedures for dealing with it.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.