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OC Register: MLB owners unwilling to compromise on schedule length, while coronavirus fears increase

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Major League Baseball owners will not budge from their proposal of a 60-game season, even after players countered with an offer to play 70 games, casting further doubt on whether the sides can reach an agreement to play the 2020 season.

The owners on Friday told the players that they will not consider a compromise on the schedule, news that comes amid further concerns that the coronavirus is encroaching on the sport.

The Philadelphia Phillies announced on Friday that five players and three staff members at their Clearwater, Fla., camp had tested positive for the virus. The Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros also announced positive tests among their players or staff at their spring facilities. The Blue Jays and Phillies have their camps just a few miles apart in the Tampa Bay area.

The Phillies, Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants all closed their spring facilities. The Giants closed because someone at the Scottsdale, Ariz., facility had exhibited mild symptoms. The Texas Rangers also closed their facility in Surprise, Ariz., as a precaution.

Major League Baseball is reportedly re-considering “bubble” scenarios to return to play, which would sequester teams in one or a small number of locations to limit the threat of the coronavirus.

A person familiar with MLB’s thinking told the Wall Street Journal that Southern California could be a potential site for games.

Although COVID-19 had never gone away, the focus of the sport’s efforts to return had been primarily over financial issues lately, with the players and owners exchanging proposals.

The crux of the disagreement is that owners contend they will lose money by playing games without fans if they have to pay players their full per-game salaries. Owners had relented on Tuesday agreed to pay the players their full pro-rated salaries, but for only 60 games.

Players responded two days later with a proposal for a 70-game season. The extra 10 games would amount to abut $250 million in additional salary for the players.

Both offers included expansion of the playoffs, from 10 teams to 16, for 2020 and 2021. The additional playoffs would create extra revenue to help offset the lack of fans.

Although it would seem the 60- and 70-game plans were close enough for the two sides to meet in the middle for an agreement, there is little indication of that happening at the moment.

“MLB has informed the Association that it will not respond to our last proposal and will not play more than 60 games,” read a statement from the union. “Our Executive Board will convene in the near future to determine next steps. Importantly, Players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred has the right to unilaterally implement a schedule of any length, provided the players get their full pro-rated salaries.

However, if Manfred does that, he risks the players filing a grievance that MLB did not make it “best effort” to schedule as many games as possible. That grievance, if it goes in the players’ favor, could cost owners $1 billion.

Also, MLB can not add the extra round of playoffs, and therefore can’t get the extra revenue, without the agreement of the players.

If owners hope to get the players to agree to a 60-game schedule, they could need to add other incentives, perhaps that would provide longer term financial benefits to the players.

MLB had hoped to begin a 60-game schedule on July 19 and conclude on Sept. 27, followed by the expanded playoffs. MLB has been leery of extending the regular season schedule and pushing the postseason into October because of the threat of a second wave of the coronavirus.

With players requesting three weeks of “spring training 2.0” to prepare for games, time is running out if the sides are to make a deal to play even 60 games. MLB had been considering a season of as little as 48 games.

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