JUPITER, Fla. — The Major League Baseball does not plan to start its season for at least another eight weeks and players are being urged to leave spring training sites and get to a place where they can spend "an extended period of time" and to get there "as soon as possible," commissioner Rob Manfred told the Post-Dispatch.
"I think the biggest topic is obviously with the CDC announcement we’re not going to be playing April 9," Manfred said outside of the Cardinals' spring training facility. "We’re not going to announce an alternate opening day at this point. Were going to have to see how things develop. I think the commitment of the clubs is to play as many baseball games in 2020 as we can, consistent with the safety of our players and our fans."
He said how to fit a 162-game schedule into a shrinking calendar is something they are discussing with the players' union. Asked if there was a date when they would have to consider a shortened season, Manfred said that would have to be discussed. Teams are braced for the possibility that there will not be baseball at all in April, and some players are discussing the possibility of a return around Memorial Day, if not later.
Manfred's comments push opening day back to at least mid-May, and if there are two weeks of workouts between the return and opening day a late May or June start is likely.
To help stem the spread of coronavirus, a global pandemic, several states and cities have instructed places where large groups gather to close or alter services, and in some places that has been recommended for a length of eight weeks. That is the CDC's recommendation, as mentioned in an official release by Major League Baseball.
Manfred added that policies are having to shift quickly even as baseball readies for a lengthy delay to the start of its season.
Manfred spoke exclusively with the Post-Dispatch after holding a 45-minute conference call with the owners, during which he emphasized that the season would be delayed more than the two weeks announced this past Thursday, and he aimed to clarify how teams should run their facilities in light of the CDC warning to keeping crowds at 50 people or less.
The facilities will not be closed to players. But there will be limited access, and players are being urged not to use the facility in groups.
Teams will not be allowed to organize workouts, even informally.
"Clarified, emphasized with the clubs that there should be no organized activities in the camps," Manfred said. "We did agree with the MLBPA that spring training sites would remain open – but the thought there is with a skeleton crew. Really, to give players some place to use a gym as opposed to being forced out into a public gym and the like. We’re really encouraging players to make a decision where they want to be over an extended period of time and get to that location as soon as possible."
Manfred also updated owners on the ongoing negotiations with the players' union for how players will be compensated and what a shortened schedule looks and what that would do for the players' salaries.
A topic of discussion is a roster freeze during this stoppage of all baseball activities.
Manfred said he has discussions with the union officials scheduled for this afternoon and he hopes to "give a lot of people clarity" after those talks. Part of those discussions will be how players are compensated in the coming weeks, and if they will be paid out as if they completed spring training.
“There are a whole host of issues,” Manfred said. “Once you start thinking about what has to change, the number of issues get larger, not smaller, I’m afraid.”
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said MLB will, in the coming days, offer suggestions for all clubs when it comes to compensating game-day and part-time staff who will be losing wages during the lack of games in the coming month or months.
"They need help," DeWitt said. "We should know what that is within the next couple of days. We will get their recommendation and go from there."
Asked about what the teams are going to do to assist minor-league players who also will be without paychecks and the benefits of spring training, DeWitt said the focus right now has been on the major-league players and the major-league camp rosters. At some point, and soon, he said, there will have to be a discussion on how to help minor-league players in the same way, perhaps with the same arrangement affording the major-league players.
At this point, players on the 40-man roster are set to receive a stipend, as they would if they had remained in spring training. That same payment is not going to minor-league players. The Cardinals had all of their minor-league players leave the facility and area Friday, and the team organized and purchased flights home for the players who needed that.
What to do next with the minor-league players or the minor-league season is something baseball will have to confront in the near future, DeWitt said.
"This is a crisis situation in our country," DeWitt said. "Both the teams and the commissioner’s office and the players understand we are all in this together. We've got to work out a solution, and it’s not easy. We are all running clubs and business that have no revenue. Obviously there’s a lot of give and take. His (Manfred’s) communication with Tony Clark, his group and our group, has been very cordial. Try to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.”