Though MLB and the players' association are in the midst of a battle regarding 2020 player pay, commissioner Rob Manfred is confident the sides will reach an agreement, which would clear a major hurdle to having a 2020 season.
"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," Manfred said on a CNN town hall Thursday night.
MLB owners approved a plan that would have the season begin in early July, provided enough testing is in place and public health officials have signed off on the parameters being sufficiently safe. There is still, however, the issue of player pay. The initial agreement guaranteed players a full year of service time, 4% of their 2020 salaries through the end of May, and then the prorated amount of their salary based on the number of games played this season.
However, owners have sought a further reduction of the prorated pay because of the steep financial losses of playing out a season without fans in the stands. Ticket sales accounted for approximately $4-5 billion last season.
The players' association, led by executive director Tony Clark, has countered that the owners are taking advantage of the global pandemic to institute a salary cap with a proposed 50-50 revenue split.
"Playing in empty stadiums is not a great deal for us economically, but our owners are committed to doing that because they feel it's important that the game be back on the field, and that the game be a sign of a beginning to return to normalcy to American life the way we've always enjoyed it," Manfred said. "We're a big business, but we're a seasonal business, and unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of the low point in terms of us for 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."
One of the major obstacles to playing out a season is having enough testing in place. Manfred on Thursday laid out the league's plans, which would include testing players and other baseball personnel multiple times per week. Anyone who shows coronavirus symptoms would be given more rapid testing. Manfred said the turnaround time is 24 hours. If you test positive, you will be quarantined until you test negative twice.
"Our experts are advising us that we don't need a 14-day quarantine," Manfred said. "What we will do is, the positive individual will be removed from the rest of the group. There will be a quarantine arrangement in each facility and in each city, and we'll do contact tracing for the individuals that we believe there was contact with, and we will do point-of-care testing for those individuals, to minimize the likelihood that there's been a spread.
"We hope that we will be able to convince the vast majority of our players that it's safe to return to work. The protocols for returning to play, the health-related protocols, are about 80 pages in length. They're extraordinarily detailed.
"So we hope that we'll be able to convince them that it's safe. At the end of the day, however, if there's a player with either health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never try to force them to come back to work. They can wait until they feel they're ready to come."