Major League Baseball has issued a proposal to the players to start the season a month late, a request that includes expanded authority for the commissioner to cut the season short, according to a baseball source on Sunday.
The players are expected to reject the proposal. The 2021 season is scheduled to begin April 1, with spring training kicking off by the middle of February.
The MLB proposal calls for a 154-game schedule with players earning 100 percent of the salaries they would get for a 162-game schedule. The full pay appeals to the players, but the expanded authority of the commissioner means their salaries would not be guaranteed, an unsurprising deal-killer in the eyes of the union.
The owners believe a one-month delay would increase the chance of completing the 2021 season in the face of a pandemic that is still battering the nation during a slow rollout of vaccines. Last week, the Arizona Cactus League requested a delayed start to spring training because of the surge in the state’s counties where 15 MLB teams play. A later start, combined with increased vaccinations and hopefully a decline in COVID-19 cases, would also increase the chances of owners opening ballparks in at least a limited capacity and reaping revenues from fans.
The proposal seeks a mid-March spring training report by players, with the season starting in early May and extending by approximately a week into October, with more doubleheaders on the schedule.
Also in the proposal: Using the designated hitter in both leagues and expanding the postseason, as the sides agreed to do on an experimental basis in their abbreviated 60-game 2020.
The league wants an answer by Monday from the Players Association, which has spent the weekend reviewing the proposal with players and agents.
The Red Sox are expected to announce details about their spring training plans as early as Monday, months later than customary.
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Dates such as when the ballclub’s equipment truck makes its annual trek from Boston to Fort Myers, Fla., and when pitchers, catchers, and position players report are usually announced in the late fall, along with spring training ticket information and game times.
Visits by fans to the Red Sox’ JetBlue Park spring training home traditionally begin when the players report and begin workouts, but the team has yet to issue policies for whether COVID-19 health and safety protocols will allow fans to attend.
Giving Rob Manfred the ultimate word in deciding if the season can safely continue represents a lessening of the power held by the union. The current CBA, which expires Dec. 1, stipulates a 162-game season must be scheduled. The sole exception is in the event of a national emergency.
The pending CBA talks for a multi-year deal provide a valid backdrop to every development affecting the shape and dimensions of the current season.
This winter the union pushed back on the apples-to-apples idea that allowing a universal DH is a giveback by MLB, matched by the players agreeing to expanded playoffs. The players see the potential for a financial windfall for the owners in expanded playoffs, much more than having 15 National League teams employ a designated hitter. The union is also wary of expanded playoffs because it might not be an incentive for owners to compete if their chances of making the playoffs increase.
Talks between MLB and the players were frequently acrimonious last May and June before the season finally took shape and was completed with a few COVID-19 hiccups.
The season’s successful completion, plus the fact the NFL, NHL, and NBA are playing, has stiffened the resolve of the powerful players union to play a complete season.
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.