Major League Baseball has formalized its plan to return to the field, with teams agreeing Monday on a proposal to send to the players’ union for an 82-game season that would start without fans in early July. The plan would include an expanded playoff field and the designated hitter for all games, even those in the National League, where it is not typically used.
The plan must clear major obstacles to become reality. Even if the union accepts the structure of a truncated season, the sides would also have to agree on a salary structure for players. The league would also need to have enough tests for players and employees without depleting the public supply, and agree with the union on working conditions, including protocols in case of positive tests.
Details of the proposal were confirmed by multiple baseball officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan cannot be official until authorized by the union.
The league’s proposal would authorize the shortest season since the early years of the National League in the late 1870s. To minimize travel, teams would play only against divisional rivals as well as teams in the corresponding geographic division of the opposite league.
Teams would hold another version of spring training for two to three weeks starting in mid-June, either at their home parks or their complexes in Arizona or Florida. Regular-season games would be played at home stadiums.
The designated hitter — adopted in the American League in 1973 but never used for games between National League teams — would be implemented across the majors because of the significant number of interleague games and to lower injury risks to pitchers. Teams would carry expanded rosters, perhaps up to 50 players per team, with at least 30 available for each game. Teams were originally expected to have 26 active players on each roster this season.
The postseason — a lucrative revenue source for owners — would expand to 14 teams, from 10, with two additional wild cards in each league. The team with the best record in each league would earn a spot in the division series, while the wild cards and other division winners would stage best-of-three series to determine the rest of the division-series field.
In an agreement on March 26 — the original opening day for the usual 162-game schedule — the sides pledged to play as many games as possible. That made sense, because it would allow the players to earn more of their salaries, which they agreed would be prorated based on the number of games played. Presumably the owners could make more money that way, too.
But lack of revenue from tickets, parking, concessions and so on would change the economic landscape for owners, who want the players to share in the industry’s financial burdens. The league has proposed paying players based on how much money is earned during the shortened season, with teams splitting revenues 50-50 with athletes. Many players believe they already gave up enough when they agreed in March to not take their salaries unless games were played, in exchange for service credit, an important factor as they try to earn money in future years.
Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said on Twitter that more important were the health implications for players, their families and the employees at team facilities and hotels.
“Bear with me, but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any M.L.B. restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season,” Doolittle wrote, adding later, “We need to consider what level of risk we’re willing to assume.”
Separately, the league also determined that the next World Baseball Classic, which had been scheduled for 2021, would be in 2023. The news was first reported by ESPN Deportes.