The latest news regarding both negotiations with players and the outbreak of Coronavirus around the league may inhibit the Angels and MLB from having a season in 2020.
Gone is spring training. Gone are the months of April, May, June, and likely the beginning of July. In the wake of Coronavirus, we’ve already lost so much of the 2020 MLB season. Now, when we finally had a glimmer of hope on a possible mid-July restart, the disease may be putting its final touches on killing the season for the Angels, MLB, and the fans.
As the country starts to re-open, we’ve seen a rise in positive cases in nearly all states. Chief among those have been the two states that house the league’s spring training facilities; Florida and Arizona. Unfortunately, that second outbreak has extended to Major League Baseball.
Friday brought with it reports of a rash of players being diagnosed with COVID-19, and the Los Angeles Angels were not spared by the outbreak, with two players testing positive. In addition to the Halos, the Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, and Toronto Blue Jays also issued press releases confirming player contraction of the disease. With the other three clubs operating out of their spring homes in Florida, the Angels team out of the Cactus League to announce players having the disease. Unlike the other clubs, the Billy Eppler would not confirm whether the players were part of the 40-man roster or not.
The outbreak among MLB players comes as an especially acrimonious negotiation between the players and the owners were beginning to wrap up and the league appeared to be gearing toward restarting. However, the latest news has forced the league to shut down all spring facilities and is reportedly now reconsidering a bubble city approach to the shortened MLB season.
What is a “bubble city”?
The concept of a bubble city is simply a way of self-containing the players and personnel that come in and out, thus limiting exposure to those involved. Those contained in the bubble would be housed and play inside the bubble, likely at a resort area with access to fields, food, and medical facilities. Players and personnel would then be tested routinely to ensure they are healthy and not spreading the disease.
The two sides initially discussed a bubble city configuration as an answer to the 2020 season, with bases rumored out of the spring training homes of Florida and Arizona. The idea would be to limit travel between fields as much as possible. However, that quickly expanded to potentially include Texas as well, and then as states started easing restrictions, it was decided that teams would play out of their home parks, albeit with no fans in attendance and then only against regional foes (i.e. Angels playing only against American League and National League West teams).
Can MLB make a bubble city approach work?
One of the reasons the bubble city approach was abandoned was due to a large number of players being unwilling to be away from their families entirely for four or more months. That would remain a significant hurdle if the two sides choose to revisit the talks. Players would undoubtedly want the right to opt-out of playing if it means they will be sequestered away.
With MLB reconsidering its plan, it may be too little too late. As mentioned, one of the regions being rumored for usage for the bubble was Florida. As MLB changed course during their initial negotiations, the NBA and MLS have both opted to take advantage of the Florida bubble, with both utilizing Walt Disney Resort for their remaining seasons or tournaments. While neither has officially gotten underway, that would limit MLB from using those facilities. The league shutting down Spring Training facilities may also inhibit using those fields in a revised bubble.
Likewise, the rash of outbreaks at the Spring Training facilities, even with increased regulations by the teams in regards to their usage, may lead to doubt that the league can effectively control the environment for a bubble city. Players already concerned about safety during a restart will not be encouraged by the latest news and will be rightfully hesitant about exposing themselves to these environments.
Is the 2020 season in doubt?
As if the ongoing and drawn-out negotiations between the league and the players have not led to enough doubt as to whether we will see baseball in 2020, the real ghost has always been and will always be the threat of a second wave of Coronavirus. The league has said as much as it insisted upon ending any potential season in October.
While all the news of positive tests or potential contraction was released by the teams on Friday, the Phillies players tested positive as early as last Tuesday, the same day the owners released their 60-game proposal to the MLBPA. Only after the players countered with 70 games and the owners declared they would not country the offer, but rather institute a season of no more than 60 games, did we learn of players testing positive.
As such, the news of positive tests leaking to the press leads to a question of timing. Outside of the length of the season, the biggest hurdle in the negotiations has been the threat of litigation by the players. That litigation would be centered around whether or not the league has negotiated in good faith, with players arguing that the owners have stalled in order to limit the number of games played and thus mitigating their overall costs against profits. By releasing this news days after negotiations failed between the sides over a matter of 10 games, the league can push its narrative that the delay was necessary and that they got in the most games they could, something they agreed to in writing in March.
Outside of the newly arising health concerns, this opens the door for the owners to delay the season further. However, it could potentially cancel it altogether, something that was rumored as preferred among several owners.
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Will the latest health issues around Coronavirus cancel the 2020 season? Should it? Let us know what you think.