Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Very little in life is certain, especially these days. But after months of speaking to people involved in Major League Baseball's efforts to return, we feel we can predict a series of events.
Ready? Here's how it will all play out:
- On Monday, owners will firm up a plan for a regional schedule that involves play in their home ballparks starting in early July.
- On Tuesday, they will ask the Players Association to accept pay cuts beyond prorated salaries.
- The PA will object. There will be angry quotes, many of them anonymous, perhaps some on the record from Scott Boras, who is highly influential in the union.
- Then the players will agree to pay cuts in exchange for some kind of concession by owners. Spring training will follow.
- Sometime in July or August, a baseball player or coach will test positive for coronavirus, putting the whole endeavor in serious jeopardy.
We don't mean to be flippant about the last point. It's a serious concern, because MLB's preferred plan is a very long way from the Arizona-based proposal for which Dr. Anthony Fauci and other respected health officials offered tentative approval last month.
Fauci subsequently said in several on-the-record interviews that in order for baseball to work this year, it would likely need to place athletes in quarantine-like situations.
"There's a way of doing that," Fauci said in a Snapchat appearance on April 15. "Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play... have them tested every week and make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out."
Over the past two weeks, momentum has shifted from the Arizona plan to a model in which as many teams as possible play in their home ballparks and travel regionally. According to sources, teams want to salvage sponsorship revenue and offer the Major League-level amenities -- everything from high-speed cameras mounted in the outfield to trainers' rooms -- to players and support staff.
It's still possible that owners modify this proposal before proposing it to the players. The players will have their own suggestions. The final plan remains very much a work-in-progress.
Playing at home stadiums and traveling will be risky. Picture this: A player leaves his house in Connecticut to drive to Yankee Stadium. He plays the game, boards a plane to Atlanta, stays in a hotel, plays in Atlanta, flies home, returns to his family in Connecticut. Is he wearing gloves and a mask every second? Is he wiping down every food container that comes to his hotel room? Is he playing catch with a teammate who isn't practicing safe procedures?
We're all educated enough in the spread of COVID-19 to see how many opportunities the virus will have in that scenario to spread, not only to players but to their families. Now imagine if a coach in his 60s or 70s contracts the virus.
MLB is working with health experts to ensure testing and as much safety as possible. It's not like they're ignoring this stuff. But there will always be variables in a non-quarantine scenario.
Aside from the obvious health concerns, the economic differences between MLB and the union currently are "overwhelming," in the words of one agent. There is mistrust on both sides. It's not a particularly healthy dynamic.
Still, we will be stunned if the players and owners don't ultimately come to an agreement that involves reduced play. "It's the ultimate 'no s--t," said another agent -- an agent! -- about the issue of pay cuts.
The players will be rightly upset, because they are assuming the physical risk in order to make money for the owners and entertain the masses.
But the owners hold a few strong cards. Players want to play, and they want to get paid. Plus, the Players Association membership is incredibly varied -- culturally, economically, politically and in many other ways -- making unity difficult.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has to corral 30 owners. Players Association executive director Tony Clark has to find something resembling consensus among his vast membership. That's not an easy job.
The next week or two will get crazy. Cable news will weigh in. The president might express an opinion, perhaps in all caps on Twitter. Union and league negotiators will face outside pressures like they have never known.
You'll read reports that make it sound as if the sides might never come together. Then they will.
And finally the coronavirus will decide if any of it actually works.