Cubs lay out hiatus plans: 'I think it's all time for us to make collective sacrifices'

Cubs lay out hiatus plans: 'I think it's all time for us to make collective sacrifices'

With spring training on hold due to the COVID-19 emergency, a “fairly significant number” of Cubs players will remain in Arizona to train, Theo Epstein said on Friday.

“We don’t have final word yet on all the players, but it seems that for now a number of players from major league camp are interested in sticking around and using the facility for weight room activity and some light baseball activity,” Epstein said in a conference call.

MLB announced Friday the indefinite suspension of all formal spring training activities due to the coronavirus. The decision left players with the option to return home or remain in Arizona — the Cubs encouraging the former.

David Ross and most of his coaching staff will go home. A few minor league coaches will stay behind, in addition to the big league coaches who reside in Arizona. Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and the remaining few front office personnel will hang back until all player transitions are finalized.

In accordance with public health guidelines, the Cubs will manage how many people are at the facility at one time. Any activity in Arizona is optional, though they’re encouraging all players, home or not, to stay in shape.

Epstein said with leases expiring, he anticipates the number of players in Arizona to dwindle as we get deeper into March.

“For now, we expect to have a fairly significant number of players to be here,” he said. “They’ve expressed that wish.”

What comes after is anyone’s guess.

Thursday, MLB postponed Opening Day until April 9, which seems optimistic considering the circumstances around the coronavirus. Before going on hiatus, the Cubs didn’t let any symptomatic players travel. They’ll conduct daily check-ins and give medical advice from afar and likely institute a medical protocol to ensure members of the organization are healthy, whenever spring training resumes.

The Cubs’ Arizona facility underwent a deep cleaning on Friday. Their Wrigley Field weight room, currently under renovation, will be ready in about a week. If/when players opt to train in Chicago, a similar cleaning will be necessary prior to Opening Day.

In a pure baseball sense, two weeks’ worth of preseason games have yet to be played. Those contests don’t all have to happen, but players aren’t going to go from sitting at home to playing meaningful games.

Epstein alluded to the notion that the longer spring training is on a hiatus, the more time players will need to prepare.

“With the reality that teams would need probably three to four weeks of working out together to get ready for a season,” he said, “I think you can draw your own reasonable conclusions about when Opening Day is, or how realistic any type of early April Opening Day is.”

Most importantly, there will be no baseball until the coronavirus is contained. Societal health takes far greater precedence, and after a tumultuous 72 hours, Epstein cared not to reflect on his own emotions.

"I think at the end of the day all of us have a moment before you put your head on the pillow where you realize just how much has changed," he said, "and just what we're all dealing with and the potential consequences for society as a whole if we don't pull together and handle this in the best possible way.

"So we're all in this together. I think it's all time for us to make collective sacrifices, to have each others back and to try to minimize the suffering and to try to eventually return to normal as quickly as possible. But it probably won't be until we're all somewhat back to normal before we can put it in proper perspective and fully process it."

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What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

Assuming safety protocols are effective enough to allow teams to play in their home stadiums and prevent coronavirus outbreaks well enough to play the three-month MLB season and subsequent postseason, we took a shot, based on conversations with multiple industry sources, at answering how the Cubs might handle several logistical questions.

The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic makes any plan open to sudden and possibly dramatic change. But if the current trends don’t change significantly in the coming weeks and months, and the generally optimistic signals from local authorities continue, a baseball season in Chicago can start to at least be envisioned. 

And here are seven glimpses of what that vision might include — with an unexpected bonus to whet fan appetite at No. 4.

What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

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Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

The rhetoric sounds harsh. The sides aren’t close. And the chances look bleak for baseball owners and players to reach an agreement to play baseball as the week closed without a counterproposal from the union since Tuesday’s "extremely disappointing" ownership proposal.

If this past week was the most important week for Major League Baseball in 25 years, as some said, what does that make the coming week as MLB tries to salvage a season during a pandemic with an early July start?

The edge of the abyss, maybe?

But as dire as the situation looked based on the massive gap left to close between the sides’ negotiating positions as of Friday, at least a few indications at week’s end pointed to reasons for optimism a season can be played.

RELATED: What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

First, too much is at stake on both sides to let the season be scuttled over financial haggling, perhaps especially for the owners, who have at least hundreds of millions of dollars at stake short-term and billions long-term if an already shaky competitor for America’s entertainment attention goes dark for a full season.

Second, deadlines have a way of turning stalemates into serious dialogue.

MLB has internally discussed three weeks of “spring training” before starting a three-month season — up to four weeks for pitchers — and that makes a June 10 target date for assembling players especially important (3 1/2 weeks before July 4).

And while nobody on either side is willing to risk suggesting a hard deadline for an agreement with so much at stake, Monday has long been considered a soft deadline, and the planned ramp-up time makes every day beyond that a faster-ticking clock toward potentially catastrophic damage to the sport.

While the union is more amenable to pushing back the start of a season and playing longer if necessary, starting later than early July gets increasingly risky from the MLB standpoint — whose main financial incentive for playing a season without fans is the nearly $1 billion of national TV money to recoup, most of it for the postseason.

Every additional week the start is pushed back increases the risk of a coronavirus outbreak within the game (or a second wave nationwide in the fall) that abruptly ends the season — and shortening to less than half its normal size makes it almost impossible to justify calling it a legitimate season.

But even beyond the logical reasons surrounding timelines and motivation, maybe the rhetoric isn’t even as bad as it sounded at times last week as negotiating positions, details and even internal memos were leaked.

Even Scott Boras, the player agent who in a private email to clients used the Cubs as an example of teams financially stronger than they admit when talking about losses, emphasized Friday he was not criticizing the Cubs in the email that apparently was leaked by a player.

“They did a smart thing. I’m not saying they did anything wrong,” he said in a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “The truth is we want organizations like the Cubs to run their businesses effectively and efficiently as they are doing, and certainly their choice of investing their revenues rather than paying off the debt of purchase is their choice, and I’m sure it’s a good choice.

“But those choices do not reflect the profitability of the team and the value of the players to the club who support the dramatic revenue that they’re making from the players’ performances.”

RELATED: How the Cubs became unwilling symbols in union's fight against MLB owners

Boras certainly has his share of critics in the industry. Even a player, Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, strangely targeted him this week, tweeting at him to “keep your damn personal agenda out of union business.”

But Boras, who has no direct involvement in negotiations, according to multiple sources, not only is right in this case, his agenda aligns with the union’s.

Maybe the players will have a compromise to offer in the coming week, beyond the prorated salaries already negotiated in March. But the economic future of the game and ability to sustain what has been a golden financial age for owners is in their owns hands right now.

It starts with the critical second step of staging a 2020 season. The first step? Back off the cries of billionaire poverty during an economic crisis that has crushed American workers and run the business with the same level of responsibility during a time of losses as the level of aggressive self-investment demonstrated during times of record revenues.

If nothing else, more transparency might be a good starting point for a week that has a real possibility of altering the course of the baseball in this country for a generation.

“The general principle of negotiating is really about good faith,” Boras said. “But when they open the door of the car for you and they know there’s no gas in the tank, you understand the invitation is pyrrhic.”

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