MLB Wants to Delay 2021 Season to Accommodate Vaccinations, Players Want to Maintain Regular Schedule

Owners Possibly Setting Stage for Next PR Battle

According to Bob Nightengale’s report for USA today, Major League Baseball and the players union are at odds over how the 2021 season should progress. The league would like to delay the season, potentially even shortening it to less 140 games, in order to ensure that all players and other team personnel are vaccinated. The players believe they’ve already proven the ability to abide by protocols and want the season to start on time with a full schedule and full pay.

I’m guessing Tony Clark and the MLBPA won’t be using Justin Turner and the Dodgers as the example here.

There was a great deal of optimism when Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that everyone who wanted a vaccine would be able to get one by early April, which seems to dovetail nicely with the start of the MLB season. However, that’s just the first of two doses, the second of which would come two weeks later and then would require an addition two weeks or so to produce full immunity. The hopeful timeline also fails to take into account the kind of widespread public vaccinations required to have fans in the stands on a big scale.

“I don’t see a snowball’s chance in hell that spring training can start with protocols in place,’’ an anonymous NL owner said. “I think there will be significant pressure for players to get the vaccine first before they go to spring training, and if that has to be moved back to April and play 130 games, so be it.”

There’s certainly logic to the idea that a continuing spike of cases in Florida and Arizona, not to mention other parts of the country and world from which players hail, creates suboptimal conditions for group activities. At the same time, the rhetoric coming from owners has to be taken with a tremendous grain of salt. Just like the negotiations for the 2020 season, they’re going to do everything they can to limit their payroll exposure.

“I don’t see any way spring training starts in February,” an AL owner told USA Today. “Zero chance of that. I don’t care if we play 140 games, 120 games or 80 games, we have to make sure everyone is safe to do this right.’’

Call me a cynic, but it feels like the whole safety thing is merely a shield behind which the league and owners are hiding. They really just want to make the most money possible and need good talking points to help cover for their true motives. Of course, the players also want to make as much as possible, especially coming off of a season in which they earned only 37% of their annual salaries.

This feels like a bit of saber-rattling as the league gets an early start on a PR campaign that will run through the bigger negotiation of the CBA at the conclusion of the ’21 season. In addition to the upcoming schedule, the two sides are still expected to discuss the possibility of bringing back the universal DH and an expanded playoff format. The broadcast rights to a larger postseason format are already being worked out with ESPN, but the union has already rejected a proposal because this particular wrinkle disproportionately helps owners.

Postseason broadcast rights represent a huge chunk of the league’s total revenues, so it only makes sense that owners would be willing to trim the regular season and limit salaries while maintaining their late windfall. Were I a betting man, I’d say owners are gearing up to use the threat of a shortened season to strong-arm players into acquiescing to permanent expanded playoffs while getting only the nominal boost of the universal DH in return.

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