In an interview with CNN on Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he was “hopeful” that there would be an MLB season at some point in 2020.
“I think it’s hopeful that we will have some Major League Baseball this summer,” Manfred said. “We are making plans about playing in empty stadiums, but as I’ve said before, all of those plans are dependent on what the public health situation is, and us reaching the conclusion that it’ll be safe for our players and other employees to come back to work.”
Aside from ensuring safe working conditions for players and other team and league employees, a primary issue that must be resolved is how players will be compensated. The league has proposed a 50/50 revenue split, an idea that players allege greatly favors the owners. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell has already expressed his displeasure with the proposal, saying he won’t play under such a financial structure.
Manfred, however, did not appear concerned that this issue would undermine a path to a resolution as negotiations between the league and players’ association continue.
“I think that whenever there’s a discussion about economics, publicly, people tend to characterize it as a fight,” Manfred said. “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 economics issues that need to be resolved.”
Manfred characterized the prospect of not playing the 2020 season as “devastating” for teams, saying that the owners could lose up to $4 billion in the event of a season cancellation.
For the league to be able to return, Manfred outlined protocols that would entail weekly testing for players. Other issues included in the league’s proposal is limited access to ballparks and processes that would help ensure safe travel on planes.
“We have developed extensive protocols. A key to those is frequent testing,” Manfred said. “All of our players would be tested multiple times a week—(polymerase chain reaction) testing to determine whether or not they had the virus. That testing would be supplemented, less frequently, by antibody testing as well.”
If a player or another member of a team tests positive, that person would be removed from the rest of the team and undergo a quarantine program. Testing will be handled at a Utah laboratory that typically handles minor league drug tests, with a 24-hour turnaround time.
All of MLB’s planning is dependent upon “what the public health situation is.” Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle voiced his concerns about how safe it would be to return to the field this season. Manfred acknowledged that while the league aims to prove that it’s safe to start the season, players’ decisions on health welfare will be their own.
“We hope that we will be able to convince the vast, vast majority of players that it’s safe to return to work,” Manfred said. “The protocols for returning to play, the health-related protocols, are about 80 pages in length. They’re extraordinarily detailed…At the end of the day, however, if there’s players with either health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never force them, or try to force them, to come back to work. They can wait until they feel they’re ready to come.”