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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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Cubs' David Ross waiting for COVID-19 test result, won't attend Monday's workout

Cubs' David Ross waiting for COVID-19 test result, won't attend Monday's workout

Cubs manager David Ross and five other Tier 1 individuals won't attend Monday morning's workout as they wait for Saturday's completed COVID-19 testing results.

The Cubs said the majority of Saturday's results have been reported but Ross and the five other individuals "anticipate further clarity" later on Monday.

“We’ve decided to do the prudent thing so myself and the five others will not attend this morning’s workout,” Ross said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, we think it makes sense for the six of us to wait for clarity. 

"Situations like this have not been a worrisome indicator of a positive test result to date.” 

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The Cubs are the only team in Major League Baseball without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing.

The Cubs pushed back last Tuesday's workout while waiting for their test results from July 5.

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Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

If Yu Darvish thinks baseball can pull off this high-risk, three-month season during a pandemic, maybe there’s reason to dream on the long shot coming in.

Then, again, the Cubs’ potential Opening Day starter has not ruled out changing his mind about playing — which underscores the daily fragility of the thread holding this 30-team, 30-site process together.

“Definitely, I came here to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing,” Darvish said through a translator. “I had in my mind if they’re not, I was ready to go home.”

Darvish was the first player in the majors last spring to publicly express fear of the COVID-19 spread and lethality of a virus that was blamed for fewer than 10 American deaths at the time — weeks before major sports were shut down across the country.

Four months and more than 130,000 U.S. coronavirus-related deaths later, he made the “tough” decision to play — with plenty of reservations.

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“Yes, definitely, I still have concerns,” he said Sunday, two days after Giants star Buster Posey became one of 11 players without a pre-existing, high-risk condition to decline to play this season.

MORE: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play in 2020

Under rules in the COVID-19 health and safety Operations Manual, players with high-risk conditions are allowed to change their minds in either direction when it comes to the opt-out decision. And they earn full service time for the year and prorated salary for the 60-game season if they don’t play.

Those such as Darvish who are not in that category don’t get service time or pay for the year if they decline to play and are not allowed to return once that decision is made official.

Asked if he still is leaving open the possibility of opting out of the season, he said, “Maybe. But at this point no, I don’t think so.”

In a baseball vacuum, Darvish offers the Cubs their best chance for success during a 60-game season and any playoffs that might follow.

“The way he finished the season last year, how good he was for us, that’s the guy we’re counting on,” manager David Ross said, referring to a second half that included a 2.76 ERA and a 118-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.

But Darvish, a native of Japan, hasn’t viewed baseball in a vacuum since the year began — approaching Cubs officials upon his arrival for informal work before spring training began in February to address concerns about reporters who might travel from possible virus hot spots in Asia to cover him.

“I’m really worried about it,” he said then.

And then on March 5 he left the Cubs’ spring facility to see a doctor for a test after experiencing a cough, out of a fear he might expose teammates if he had the virus.

By the time MLB and the union agreed last month to terms for a season, the thought of playing during a pandemic had only become more serious for Darvish and many others throughout the game.

“It was tough because I have small children,” Darvish said of the decision. “During the spring we had a lot of thoughts about that, and it was tough decision.”

He said seeing teammates with similar family dynamics and concerns choose to play made it “a little easier to make the decision to play.”

But it’s a discussion among players and their families across the majors that isn’t going to go away — and figures to only intensify every time another batch of test results shows up late or another player tests positive somewhere.

MORE: Cubs COVID-19 tests return negative, Theo Epstein cautions against complacency

Not to mention continued spikes in new cases and deaths in cities and states across the major-league map.

“I think we’re all a little nervous. Nobody wants to get this thing,” Cubs veteran Jon Lester said. “You have to just believe in the testing process; you have to believe in kind of the bubble community we’re trying to create here; you have to believe in these things.”

That’s when Lester held up a mask during the Zoom session with reporters.

The Cubs — the only team in the league without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing — have shown a commitment to safety protocols from top to bottom in the organization. Third baseman Kris Bryant wore his mask again while taking ground balls at third base Sunday, despite plenty of safe distance from the nearest player or coach.

“I know that some of the players are uncomfortable wearing it, but they do wear it,” Darvish said. “So it’s nice to see. I used to wear [masks] all the time in Japan so I’m very comfortable with this.”

Getting comfortable with the larger experiment, especially when teams begin to travel and inherent risks increase, could be an ongoing adjustment — for everyone from
Darvish, Lester and Bryant to Angels superstar Mike Trout, who continues to express concerns with his first child due next month.

“There’s a lot of stuff where you’re putting yourself out there and just kind of hoping,” said Lester, whose successful battle with cancer more than a decade ago qualifies him for a high-risk exemption to opt out.

“My own personal health really wasn’t my concern,” said Lester, who said the team doctor consulted with his oncologist in Chicago on the issue. “We do have some family stuff we’re trying to stay away from. But I think you just have to dive into this head-first and go with the protocols and wash your hands and be careful.

“You really have to concentrate on that and hopefully everything else kind of takes care of itself.”

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