For the first time since Sept. 29, the Mariners’ final game of the 2019 season, baseball will be allowed return to T-Mobile Park, on July 1.
After three months of acrimonious negotiations between Major League Baseball owners and the MLB Players Association that included leaked proposals and counterproposals to the media, released reaction statements from both sides and an earned disgust/distrust from fans, there is finally an “agreement” in place to start the 2020 season.
A unanimous vote by MLB owners Monday to have commissioner Rob Manfred impose a schedule of 60 games based on a previous agreement between MLB and the MLBPA on March 26 — two weeks after baseball shut down due to the spread of the novel coronavirus — essentially brought an end to the draining and drawn-out negotiating process.
The final aspect of the baseball’s return came Tuesday when the MLBPA voted to approve the submitted Operating Manual from MLB, which contained safety and health protocols to deal with playing in a time of pandemic and accept a July 1 report date for a shortened version of spring training — 21 days of workouts — in their respective home cities.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Manfred said the season will begin July 23 or 24, and that a 60-game schedule has been submitted to the MLBPA. The schedule will feature mostly divisional play, with the rest of the games scheduled against geographical counterparts in the other league. That means the Mariners will face American League West and National League West teams.
“Major League Baseball is thrilled to announce that the 2020 season is on the horizon,” Manfred said in the statement. “We have provided the Players Association with a schedule to play 60 games and are excited to provide our great fans with Baseball again soon.”
The Mariners had the remainder of the gear at their spring-training complex in Peoria, Arizona, loaded on to a truck last week and hauled to Seattle in preparation for what is being called Spring Training 2.0.
After debating whether to hold their second spring training at their complex in Peoria or at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners were able finalize a plan to practice in Seattle when Gov. Jay Inslee announced that professional sports could resume practices and activities in all counties without fans, regardless of phase, on June 6.
There were still some possible roadblocks with King County and the City of Seattle, specifically the office of Mayor Jenny Durkan. But with King County now approved to enter Phase 2 of Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan, the Mariners, pending mayoral approval, should be able to hold workouts.
The Mariners can’t submit their plan to the city or county without an official agreement reached with the MLBPA.
These workouts aren’t expected to be typical. Currently, there is a limitation to the number of people allowed in gatherings. Given the space limitations of T-Mobile Park — two indoor batting cages, two double bullpen pitching mounds and the field setup — the Mariners wouldn’t have been able to hold typical spring-training-type workouts.
They are expected to host smaller groups of workouts throughout the day at T-Mobile and possibly use Cheney Stadium in Tacoma and Funko Field in Everett as possible extra outlets for workouts.
The current plan is to have the full 40-man roster active as well as a 10-player taxi squad. Seattle would likely bring back around 55-60 players to the area — MLB is expected to set a limit on invitees — and then finalize its roster and taxi squad before the season would start in late July. Players and staff invited to spring training would have to undergo COVID-19 testing before being cleared to participate, which would take up the first days of July.
A resumption of official workouts for teams would represent a moment that seemed just within grasp and so far out of reach at varying points over the past three months.
The expected negotiated agreement never materialized as the sides could not find common ground on salary structure, players wanting the full pro rata of their salaries as agreed upon in late March, or number of games played, which would dictate the amount of salary paid and earned.
Owners claimed that each game played without fans in the stadium would represent a significant financial loss of $640,000.
The sides bickered privately in official negotiations and publicly in news statements and leaked information starting in early May. When the hoped-for return to spring training on June 10 and proposed opening day on July 4 became unrealistic and the number of reported cases of COVID-19 showing an uptick in many states — specifically Florida, Arizona and Texas — the sides tried to find middle ground in the past three days.
Manfred flew to Arizona to meet with Tony Clark, the head of the MLBPA, last week. He offered a plan of 60 games at full pro rata that included expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 16 teams for a greater share of postseason television revenue, for the 2020 and 2021 season, and a universal use of the designated hitter in 2020 and 2021.
It also included:
— A guaranteed $25 million in playoff pools in 2020
— $33 million in forgiven salary advances that would increase the take-home pay of 61% of major-league players
There was also a stipulation that the expanded playoffs could be removed in 2021.
While Manfred labeled it the framework of a deal, Clark said it was simply a proposal. A day later, the MLBPA countered with a similar deal but pushed for 70 games.
The owners, through Manfred, refused to compromise on more than 60 games and negotiate further, asking the players to vote on the deal proposed or have Manfred impose a schedule of his choosing.
On Monday, the union voted 33-5 to reject MLB’s 60-game offer with expanded playoffs. In return, MLB owners unanimously voted to have Manfred set a schedule based on the March 26 agreement. The plan is to pack in 60 games before MLB’s Sept. 27 cutoff for regular-season games.
Under this plan, the playoffs will remain at only 10 teams and there will be no forgiveness of any of the salary advance received in the earlier agreement.
The 60-game schedule will be the fewest games since 1878. And the MLBPA is expected to file a grievance against MLB, based upon the March agreement, that the owners and league did not fulfill its duty to try to play as many games as possible under the circumstances.