MLB and union focused on plan that could allow season to start as early as May in Arizona

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Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focusing on a plan that could allow them to start the season as early as May and has the support of senior federal public health officials who believe the league can work well security amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources said. ESPN.

Although the plan has a number of potential hurdles, it has emerged over other options as the most likely to work and has been adopted by leaders of the MLB and the MLB Players Association, who are encouraged by the possibility of the return of baseball and the support of federal officials, sources said.

The plan, sources say, would require all 30 teams to play fanless stadiums in the greater Phoenix area, including the Arizona Diamondbacks hunting ground, 10 training facilities in the spring, and possibly other fields to proximity. Players, coaches and other essential staff would be held in local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health supported a plan that would respect strict isolation, promote social distancing, and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.

The return date in May depends on a number of dispelled concerns, and officials say an opening day in June could be more realistic, sources say. Most importantly, there would be a significant increase in available rapid turnaround coronavirus tests, which, sources familiar with the plan, will occur in early May and would allow MLB testing not to diminish public access. .

While health officials view MLB players as low risk candidates for COVID-19 problems due to their age and health, the establishment of protocols to ensure health and safety managers, coaches, referees and other older staff would be paramount to the work plan, sources said.

The logistics of carrying out such a plan would be huge and cumbersome on the league side and would require the buy-in of players, whose sources expect to be skeptical about the separation of their families for an indefinite period – perhaps as long only 4½ months, if the inability to stem the coronavirus epidemic prevents teams from playing in their home stadiums in 2020.

Still, leaders of both sides hope that the combination of receiving paychecks for the game and the return of baseball providing respite to a nation plagued by the devastation of COVID-19 will convince players to accept the plan, have sources said.

For weeks, senior federal health officials and baseball officials discussed the feasibility of the plan, sources said. Senior MLBPA officials sat down with health officials on Saturday who proposed the plan as the clearest way to restart baseball, sources said. The league and union began discussing the plan on Monday over several phone calls, sources said. With uncertainty over the length of the US coronavirus pandemic, the option of isolation has moved to the forefront of the possibilities considered by the league, sources said.

The obstacles go far beyond the tests and fears of players to separate from their families. MLB and MLBPA, sources say they expect to discuss the economics of the plan this week, in which the league would forgo entry revenues which account for the largest proportion of its annual revenues in excess of $ 10 billion. . The league could raise additional funds by adding games to its national television portfolio, with networks likely to jump to live programming as other sports remain closed due to the coronavirus, sources said.

If the league and union agreed to an agreement, sources say, it would greatly increase the likelihood of teams descending into the Phoenix area in May, provided that logistical issues – securing coronavirus tests, accommodation, security, transportation and a myriad of other issues – – can be resolved. After a two to three week training camp, during which the protocols would be tested and reiterated, the MLB may consider starting its regular season, sources said.

Although the possibility of a player or staff member testing positive for coronavirus exists, even in a secure environment, officials do not believe that a positive test alone would necessarily be the cause of quarantining a whole team or season closing, sources said. The plan could include teams with considerably expanded rosters to account for the possibility that players will be positive despite the isolation, as well as to counter the heat in Phoenix, which could become problematic during the summer, sources said. The attraction of more players likely to receive wages and hours of service in the major leagues would draw heavily on the union, sources said.

Both sides recognize that the uniqueness of the season would not be limited to the location of the stadium or the size of the lineup. Among the possibilities that were discussed between people on both sides, but not in Monday’s talks, sources said:

• Installation of an electronic hitting area to allow the plate umpire to maintain a sufficient distance from the catcher and the batter

• No mound visits by the catcher or the pitching coach

• The seven-game double doubles, which with an earlier start date than expected could bring baseball closer to a full season of 162 games

• Regular use of microphones in the field by players, as a bonus for viewers

• Sitting in empty stands 6 feet apart – the recommended space for social outing – rather than in a canoe

Each option, although far from certain, will likely be discussed in the coming days as the viability of the plan for everyone involved takes shape.

The discussion of money would not only be between the league and the players, but also between the teams. Since local television contracts vary widely by market – well over $ 100 million a year between the best and the lowest local television offerings – those who depend on gate revenues could request a one-year change the revenue sharing plan between the 30 teams.

The parties should also determine how many people would live inside the so-called sports bubble alongside field and medical staff, as well as whether it would include front office officials, scouts, video personnel and media, among others, sources told me.

As important and potentially delicate as some of the challenges might be, sources said the league and union are motivated to make the plan work because they realize that the alternative could be worse for both parties: no baseball at all in 2020.

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