Coles: Implications of the New Spring Training Protocol

New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres warms-up before the baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium Sunday, April 22, 2018 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

As of Saturday, every MLB team has decided to have their Spring Training Camp in their own home cities. Cases have increased in both Arizona and Florida, the home of MLB’s Spring Training sites. The first big news that led to this came out of the Phillies camp, after five players and three staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. At this point, it would seem at least half of all MLB teams have had staff or players test positive for the virus in the last week, a bad sign as the MLB tries to inch closer to starting their season.

As for the Yankees specifically, they will be moving their Spring Training activities to New York. New York has now become one of the Covid-19 dead zones in the US after “111 days of hell,” according to State Governor Andrew Cuomo. For a New Yorker, it is absolutely a good sign to see both the Mets and Yankees come back to New York to finish Spring Training in their respective ballparks. As a baseball fan, however, these last few days have led to a decreased optimism.

There is clearly  a rift between MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA Spokesperson Tony Clark (or more specifically Scott Boras). Manfred, who claims to be worrying about certain health implications, has urged Clark to accept a 60 game schedule. Clark, however, has not heeded that advice, demanding a 70 game schedule.

Here is Tony Clark’s proposal according to Jeff Passan: 70-game season from July 19-Sept. 30, $50M in playoff bonuses, 50/50 split of new postseason TV revenues in 2021, forgiveness of salary advance for tier I-III players, universal DH and a mutual waiver of grievance. As we now know, Manfred said he would cancel expanded playoffs and a universal DH for 2021 if a season is not played in 2020.

Manfred has also said that he wants a 60 game schedule. He claims he wants the the season to end in a timely fashion, lessening the effect of a second wave. Whether Manfred firmly believes that, or is using it as a bargaining tactic on behalf of the owners, who knows. There is some truth to that sentiment, though, because the sooner the season ends the less of a chance a second wave has on affecting games.

Back to what we do know, though, about moving Spring Training facilities to home ballparks. The most obvious issue has to do with spacing. Spring training complexes have multiple fields and multiple clubhouses, allowing for easy social distancing. That is not the case at major league stadiums. All players must share one field, and clubhouses are more limited especially with more players naturally attending Spring Training. Also, there are no real campuses for players like their may be at a Spring Training site.

Also, what about teams like the Rays and Diamondbacks, whose home ballparks are in America’s newest hotspots? Or the Blue Jays? Who have to go back to Canada, which has instituted a 14-day mandatory quarantine for international travelers. These types questions, geared mostly towards possible health disasters, raise overall concerns about the actual possibility of a season being played. I think as more players and staff test positive and the standoff between the MLB and MLBPA gets exacerbated, we inch closer and closer to no MLB season.

Because of that, I think we are looking at an almost irreparable relationship between the players and the owners. With a new collective bargain coming up as well, neither side wants to budge. Ideally, in the near term, Manfred mandates the start of a season and we go on our way. As for the long term, the relationship between the Union and Ownership may be significantly fractured for years to come.

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