MLB: Latest return-to-play proposal is picking up momentum

On Thursday morning ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that MLB expects to offer a proposal to the MLBPA, regarding a plan for a return-to-play, as soon as the next week.

Whether it’s from the KBO’s opening Day on Monday — aired on ESPN — or just the simple fact that we’re heading into the second week of May still without Major League Baseball, things are beginning to heat up in regards to a return date for America’s pastime. Last week’s proposal to bring back MLB — first reported on April 28 by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale — has gained even more traction over the last several days; and on Monday, former big leaguer Trevor Plouffe shared some good news (“from his sources” on Twitter), which have increased interest in the topic even more.

Since that tweet by Plouffe (which at the time seemed like a far fetched idea), major league teams have begun encouraging their players to prepare for a “spring” training that could start as soon as mid-June and an opening day to the regular season as early as July 1.

The hurdles that remain are obviously substantial (especially when considering a return date only a month away), but it appears MLB is ready to go all the way through with this (or at least further than previous plans).

Fast-forward to Thursday morning’s report by Passan at ESPN, and not only is MLB serious about its most-recent plan for a 2020 season, but the league also plans to provide the MLBPA with an official return-to-play proposal in the coming days. According to Passan, at least a dozen teams have reached out to its players, suggesting they ramp up their baseball activities.

But let’s slow down just a bit. What has changed in the last week that suddenly makes a plan for a return-to-play possible now? Well, nothing really. There are numerous questions that still need to be answered, not to mention a virus still clearly causing havoc across the country. Here’s a bullet list of issues still left unresolved:

  • Pay: MLB is obviously determined to start the season within the next month, but that may mean very little if the actual players aren’t satisfied with their payment for this season. The MLBPA has already agreed to prorated salaries for the 2020 season, though the financial losses expected from playing games in empty stadiums have team owners looking for more cuts to player salaries. The issue of “pay” must be settled before anything else can move forward, and rightfully so.
  • Roster size: One of the topics discussed in Passan’s report from Thursday morning was the size of rosters for the 2020 season. According to Passan, “multiple executives have suggested that as many as 50 players will be available for teams to use and that they’ll have active rosters of up to 30 players each game.” However, obviously a standard will need to be implemented league-wide so teams will know exactly what’s permitted. With a Minor League Baseball season looking extremely doubtful this year, teams will need to decide which minor league players or prospects deserve a spot on the expanded MLB roster.
  • Length of the regular season: Last week’s report by USA Today was clear about MLB’s intentions regarding the number of games the league hoped to get in for the 2020 season, but more recent updates have perhaps contradicted that original plan. Allowing enough of a season to achieve 100 games seemed to be the magic number last week, but now the fear of a “second-wave” of the coronavirus has resulted in a different approach. MLB and the MLBPA will need to decide whether or not a shortened season is in their best interest, given the potential for another pandemic this coming fall. Such a shortened season could have rather far-reaching implications in terms of a potential postseason, as well as the still-unresolved issue of player salaries.

And those are just a few of the issues still left to resolve, not to mention perhaps one of the most significant questions still unanswered… What happens when a player becomes invected with COVID-19 after baseball resumes?

Regardless, there seems to be a lot more urgency by MLB this time around. Over the last few months, there have been at least three or four different plans to bring back baseball, but none of them became anything more than a hopeful proposal for us to debate. It appears that’s changing now, as Passan also reported that MLB has already been in contact with federal and state officials, “seeking guidance as it maneuvers toward a new Opening Day.”

I’ll give MLB credit, they certainly seem to be maneuvering towards an opening day. However, can the league really pull it off? I suppose we’ll find out in the next several days.