Will players go for MLB’s delayed, 154-game proposal?

It’s February, and February means the start of spring training. Nationals pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to West Palm Beach in 16 days, and if that isn’t reason to smile on this snowy morning, what is?

Unless pitchers and catchers don’t actually report on Feb. 17 as scheduled, which appears to be the preference of Major League Baseball.

MLB, according to multiple reports Sunday, has sent a proposal to the MLB Players Association requesting a one-month delay of spring training, a four-week delay of opening day and a 154-game regular season that would push an expanded postseason at least a week into November.

The league did this, mind you, with less than three weeks to go until the original and traditional start of spring training. Seems like something that perhaps could’ve been proposed a bit sooner, giving everyone more time to negotiate details and prepare for an altered schedule, no?

If you’ve paid any attention at all to baseball labor negotiations in the last year, of course, you won’t be surprised in the least. The surprise would’ve been a well-thought-out proposal earlier in the offseason and then a productive back and forth with the union, resulting in a plan that worked for everyone.

Empty-Nationals-Park-at-Opener-Sidebar.jpgWe know that’s not how things work around here. And we also know the players aren’t just going to accept this near-last-minute proposal from MLB. Indeed, there were multiple reports Sunday night that the union intends to decline the offer, which would in theory keep everything (spring training, opening day, the postseason) on its regular schedule.

Why are the players expected to turn down the proposal? Well, let’s first look at what MLB reportedly is offering:

* A delayed, but full, spring training to begin around March 22

* A delayed, 154-game regular season to begin around April 28

* Full 162-game pay for players

* An expanded 14-team postseason

* The return of the designated hitter in the National League

The thinking behind the delay is that it would give an extra month for folks in all walks of life to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, theoretically making for a safer environment for everyone involved and also making it more likely more fans can attend games in 2021.

And to be honest, that makes a lot of sense. Why rush into the season when case and death numbers remain near an all-time high but more and more people are beginning to receive the vaccine?

What, then, is the players’ issue with this plan? For one thing, they’re concerned it still gives commissioner Rob Manfred unilateral authority to cancel games along the way. (And if games are canceled, they say, the players won’t get full pay.)

For another thing, players are saying it’s too late to make such a drastic change. Many have already begun reporting early to camps in Florida and Arizona. Many pitchers are already building their arms up with the intention of being ready for an April 1 opener. Any delays would force them to shut down or slow down that process, and as we saw last year that could lead to more injuries.

The players also appear to be opposed to the expanded postseason, believing that will encourage teams not to spend money in an attempt to improve. Why try to win 90 games when 85 might be enough to reach the playoffs?

And so we appear to be headed for an all-too-familiar scenario. Owners make a proposal. Players reject it. The two sides bicker with each other for a while. And if no agreement is reached, they just proceed with the original plan that was already in place and has been serving as a default solution all along.

Who benefits from any of this? Nobody. Who suffers from it? Everybody.

And you thought 2021 was going to be better than 2020.

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