With the amount of calls, letters and emails his office has received, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said it’s clear that fans are missing baseball.
But can the sport return amid the coronavirus pandemic – and will MLB and the players be able to come to a financial agreement to do so? Manfred is optimistic, telling CNN on Thursday that he is “hopeful” there will be a season starting in the summer.
But there’s an elephant in the room. On Thursday’s CNN Global Town Hall with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Gupta asked Manfred about the possibility of the players union not agreeing to come back because of a potential pay cut and that the health risks might not be worth it.
“Whenever there’s a discussion about economics, publicly people tend to characterize it as a fight,” said Manfred. “Me, personally, I have great confidence that we’ll reach an agreement with the players association both that it’s safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved.”
If there’s no season, losses would be “devastating” for the teams, Manfred said.
“We’re a big business, but we’re a seasonal business,” Manfred said. “Unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of the low point for us in terms of revenue. We hadn’t quite started our season yet, and if we don’t play a season the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion.”
Manfred said that MLB’s plan is to begin playing games in empty stadiums in the first half of July. There would be multiple tests for the virus conducted per week with some supplemental antibody testing. In addition to testing, there will be temperature checks and symptom analysis for each individual daily.
A laboratory in Utah, which MLB normally uses for drug testing for minor league players, will handle the testing, and there will be a 24-hour turnaround, Manfred said.
Should a player test positive, that person would be removed from the rest of the team, Manfred said, but he added that experts are advising MLB that a 14-day quarantine isn’t necessary. There will be a quarantine arrangement for the player, and there will be contact tracing for those it was believed the player was in contact with, as well as point-of-care testing to minimize the possibility of a spread.
“Nothing is risk-free in this undertaking,” Manfred said. “We’re trying to mitigate that risk with the repeated point-of-care testing to make sure that people who have had contact have not been exposed, and by obviously removing those individuals that have a positive test, they will be quarantined until they have two negative tests over a 24-hour period.”
If any players aren’t comfortable with playing, Manfred says, MLB would not force them to come back, and they can wait until they’re ready.
“We hope that we will be able to convince the vast majority of our players that it’s safe to return to work,” Manfred said.
On Monday, multiple outlets reported that MLB owners had finalized a proposal that would start a shortened 82-game season. However, there have been players that have pushed back publicly on the idea.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell let his feelings be known about the prospects of playing in a shortened season if asked to take a pay cut by MLB team owners.
“For me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof,” said Snell, winner of the Cy Young award in 2018.
His comments come as rumors swirl about a plan approved by MLB owners that would halve the amount of money players would make for the season – in a 50-50 revenue split with owners, ESPN reported.
While conversing Wednesday with fans on his Twitch streaming channel, Snell was asked whether he was for or against a 50-50 revenue split.
“I’m not splitting no revenue,” Snell said. “I want all mine … You all gotta understand. Cause you all are going to be like, ‘Blake, play for the love of the game – what’s wrong with you? The money should not be a thing.’ Bro. I am risking my life … Y’all gotta understand, man, for me to go, for me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof. It’s a shorter season, less pay.”
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer on Wednesday called MLB’s plan “laughable.”
“The ask basically is take more risk by getting back sooner and take less pay than we’ve already agreed,” Bauer says in a YouTube video with his agent, Rachel Luba. “We’ve already agreed to take … (a) 50 percent pay cut, and now they’re asking us to take another pay cut.”
He later went on to say, “(A 50-50 revenue split) has never been done in baseball. It’s not collectively bargained. It would just be for this season. It doesn’t sit well with me. Slightly lighthearted, but if I’m gonna have to trust my salary to Rob Manfred marketing the game to make more money for the game, I am out on that.”
The Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB initially had an agreement in March that players would receive a $170 million salary advance. In exchange for that advance, the MLBPA agreed not to challenge the loss of the players’ 2020 salaries if the season were to be canceled and to accept prorated salaries if a partial season is played.
An excerpt of that March agreement, provided to CNN by a source with knowledge of MLB operations, indicates that if games cannot be staged in teams’ home stadiums in front of spectators, the MLB and MLBPA agree to hold good-faith discussions about the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at neutral sites. MLB’s position is that those discussions could include asking players to take further salary reductions.
The players are balking at the idea of reopening the discussion of salaries.
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark previously said in a statement: “Players recently reached an agreement with Major League Baseball that outlines economic terms for resumption of play, which included significant salary adjustments and a number of other compromises. That negotiation is over. We’re now focused on discussing ways to get back on the field under conditions that prioritize the health and well-being of players and their families, coaches, umpires, team staff and fans.”
The players association had no additional comment when reached by CNN on Thursday.
CNN’s David Close and Kevin Dotson contributed to this report.