While the fight over compensation for a potential 2020 season draws most of the headlines, the matter of health and safety appears to be taking priority in early negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
There are countless issues that must be worked out before a season can officially begin, but the question on most players’ minds right now is a simple one: What happens if somebody tests positive for the coronavirus?
MLB hadn’t publicly said much of anything about that dilemma during the first days of negotiations with the union, but commissioner Rob Manfred revealed some important details about the league’s plan Thursday night during an interview with CNN.
Manfred told hosts Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta all players would be tested “multiple times a week” to determine if anyone has the coronavirus, plus less frequent testing for antibodies that would reveal if someone previously had the virus but showed no symptoms. Anybody entering ballparks would also be subject to daily temperature checks and symptom analysis.
Using a Utah lab that for several years has handled all minor league drug testing, Manfred said test results would be available within 24 hours.
“We feel comfortable that by doing multiple tests a week and trying to minimize that turnaround time, we’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure that the players are safe,” the commissioner said.
And what happens if a player or other personnel tests positive? That person would immediately be placed in quarantine and would not be allowed to return until producing two negative tests within a 24-hour window.
Officials would then begin contact tracing and test anyone else who may have come into contact with the confirmed patient. But barring a clear sign the virus had spread to multiple people, the rest of the team would continue to play as scheduled without forcing everyone into a two-week quarantine.
“Nothing is risk-free in this undertaking,” Manfred said. “We’re trying to mitigate that risk with repeated point-of-care testing to make sure that people who have had contact have not been exposed. And by obviously removing those individuals that have a positive test, they will be quarantined until they have two negative tests over a 24-hour period.”
Manfred said MLB has produced an 80-page manual with protocols for returning to play, outlining the plan for team charter travel, “tiered” access to ballparks for non-players to keep them separated from others and other contingencies to assuage any fears the participants may have.
And if there was a player who wasn’t comfortable participating?
“We hope that we’re able to convince them that it’s safe,” Manfred said. “At the end of the day, however, if there’s players with health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never try to force them to come back to work. They can wait until they feel they’re ready to come.”
MLB’s current proposal has all 30 teams playing in their home ballparks without fans. Manfred said he has spoken to the governors of all 18 states that house teams, and “most” expressed the belief they’d be cleared for play by July. If any states are not ready to allow it, there will be contingency plans to relocate teams to other locations deemed safe.
There is still the matter of finances, of course, and by all accounts this remains a major hurdle for MLB and the union to overcome. The two sides agreed in late-March to prorate players’ 2020 salaries based on the number of games played this season, but with MLB projecting to lose as much as $4 billion if they play in empty stadiums, the league is now asking players to agree to a 50-50 split of revenues. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark was adamant in his opposition to such a plan, which he equates to a salary cap that players have always opposed.
Manfred was asked about the optics of a financial fight between owners and players during a time of international crisis.
“I think whenever there’s a discussion about economics, publicly people tend to characterize it as a fight,” the commissioner said. “Me, personally, I have great confidence that we will reach an agreement with the Players Association, both that it’s safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved.”