Jon Lester: MLB, union 'bending over backwards' to finalize health protocols

Jon Lester: MLB, union 'bending over backwards' to finalize health protocols

Cubs starter Jon Lester has a message for those keeping tabs on negotiations between MLB and the players union regarding health, safety and financial terms for a 2020 season.

"I think the biggest thing — and I’m guilty of it just like everybody else — you can't believe everything that’s put out there," Lester said on WSCR’s “Inside the Clubhouse” Saturday morning. “A couple of weeks ago, we had stuff being leaked that wasn't even presented to the players yet. 

“There is just a lot of stuff. I think people have a lot of time on their hands to — I don't want to say fabricate stories — but really try to dig and find things, possible leaks.”

MLB submitted its proposal for the 2020 season to the union last week. It includes a 67-page document highlighting the health and safety measures the league intends to implement amid a return during the coronavirus pandemic.

Any plan for the season can't be finalized until the two sides agree on the necessary safety protocols to resume play. Those discussions are ongoing, and then, the league and players have to come to a financial agreement, a proposal for which the league will deliver the players on Tuesday, a source told NBC Sports Chicago. 

RELATED: MLB, players prepared to move in negotiations with 2020 season on the line

Lester stressed patience as the players sort through the 67-page proposal, noting an agreement won’t happen overnight as players are bound to have numerous questions. And though the public perception may be the two sides are haggling over terms, Lester said both have been great and their No. 1 concern is the safety of players, coaches and other essential personnel.

“MLB — from the owners' side of it to the players' side of it — we’re bending over backwards to try to get this health side of it figured out,” he said. “The other stuff [financials], we can kind of figure out as we go. 

“But players, owners and doctors, everyone wants to be safe. So, we don’t want to rush into this thing and start risking health. Not only health based on this pandemic, but health physically for the player when it comes to a shortened spring training and trying to get revved up for a season that fast.”

Lester, 36, has been training at home to keep his strength up and throwing at a local Atlanta high school. He highlighted the biggest challenge in returning to play is the unknown of when he should start ramping his training up for a second "spring" training, unlike a normal season, when camp starts in February.

“Right now, there’s no date to build towards. That unknown is throwing you off mentally,” he said. “You can’t really get after it, you can’t really prepare like you would for a normal spring training. 

“That being said, when you get there, whatever that date may be, I know our medical staff, our coaching staff, we’re all going to be erring on the side of caution to get guys ramped up. We definitely don’t want to be coming in first day and throwing an inning or two innings to hitters and now you’re pushing yourself back to where you possibly can’t even play 81 games, or 82 games. There is just that fine line."

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Cubs' Adbert Alzolay complains about South Bend conditions but comments misleading


Cubs' Adbert Alzolay complains about South Bend conditions but comments misleading

Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay made waves on Thursday tweeting (now deleted) about the conditions for players at the club’s alternate training site, hosted at the South Bend Cubs facility.

Alzolay and the 10 other players in South Bend are eligible for this season but will remain inactive unless need arises on the big league roster. He tweeted the players make $18 a day — or $10, when accounting for “dues” the players owe, while possibly tipping clubhouse attendants.

Whether it was a miscommunication by someone with Alzolay, the actual amount the players get is $25 and no dues are deducted from that. The option to tip clubhouse attendants is up to players individually. Through Summer Camp, the 11 Cubs in South Bend will also receive two packaged meals a day at the complex.

Once the regular season starts (July 23, per MLB’s arrangement for the 60-game campaign), the alternate site Cubs will receive $50 a day in meal money, instead of what was originally proposed because the Cubs proposed higher daily meal money.

Players will receive full salaries beginning July 23, per MLB’s agreement, and minor leaguers are being paid in the meantime. Six of the 11 Cubs in South Bend are not on the 40-man roster, and they will continue receiving $400 a week. Those on the 40-man (including Alzolay) received advanced salaries, per MLB’s agreement with the MLBPA in March.

Alzolay received $30,000 from that agreement.

Additional important context is the South Bend facility is one of the best in minor league baseball — with housing for the players nearby. The players are residing at new apartments that opened in December right outside the ballpark. They aren’t being charged for those apartments through Summer Camp, and the Cubs will subsidize many of the players in South Bend once the regular season starts. 

MORE: Where Cubs could find position of strength in 2020: South Bend

Alzolay later tweeted an update on the matter.

In wake of José Quintana’s thumb injury, general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the Cubs haven’t decided if Alzolay will join the Wrigley Field training group.


Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

Why it matters that the Cubs bullpen is 'deeper' than David Ross expected

The Cubs pitching staff is staring at a block of 17 straight games to start the season. After just three weeks of Summer Camp.  

“There’s a reason why Spring Training’s so long,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Because we want to stretch it out, make sure everybody’s healthy. So, outside of the virus factor, there’s a risk-factor of injury as well.”

Expecting starting pitchers to consistently throw seven innings at the beginning of the season isn’t realistic, so pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has built in a cushion. While most Cubs starters are upping their workloads to three-plus innings this week, some middle relievers are stretching to multiple innings as well.

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Late this week, Hottovy said he expects Rex Brothers, Dan Winkler, Casey Sadler, Duane Underwood Jr. and James Norwood to throw two innings in simulated games.

“As much as it is important to get these guys going multiple innings,” Hottovy said. “It’s also important to get them the volume they need, that you would see during a regular season. So throwing a two or three inning stint and having three or four days off, it may help us in one game, but over the course of the season … we’re going to need guys to be able to bounce back.”

Those who aren’t expected to throw multiple innings will, for the most part, still work up to a batter or two over one inning.

Kyle Ryan, who was delayed by what Ross called “protocol technicalities,” is in that category. He arrived in Chicago Wednesday night, according to Ross. Ryan was scheduled to be tested for COVID-19 along with the rest of the team Thursday. He will be quarantined until the Cubs receive his tests results, as long as they come back negative.

But Hottovy still believes there’s a chance Ryan could be ready to pitch in time for opening day in two weeks.

“We still have to get our eyes on him,” Hottovy said. “I feel like there is because of the work that he’s done and what he’s had access to back home.”

Either way, the Cubs hope to avoid having him pitch in back to back games early in the season.

“I don’t think anybody,” Hottovy said, “no matter what work you’ve done, is going to be ready to go back-to-backs at least consistently and definitely not those three days in a row.”

Not even closer Craig Kimbrel. Hottovy anticipates several of those pitchers will need to fill late-inning roles due to the compact 60-game schedule.

The Cubs starting rotation may be lacking in depth, even more than the Cubs originally expected after southpaw Jose Quintana lacerated his left thumb while washing dishes. But even with swingman Alec Mills expected to join the starting rotation, Ross has been pleasantly surprised with the overhauled Cubs bullpen.

“It’s definitely deeper than I had in my mind going into it,” Ross said. “These guys have really taken it upon themselves to be in tip-top shape.”