By RONALD BLUM
NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball has proposed a one-month delay in starting spring training due to the coronavirus pandemic and pushing back opening day to April 28, two people familiar with the plan told The Associated Press.
Under the plan presented to the players’ union on Friday, the regular season would be cut from 162 games to 154.
Also, the playoffs would be expanded from 10 teams to 14, the designated hitter would extend to the National League for the second straight season and MLB would keep the experimental rules for seven-inning doubleheaders and beginning extra innings with a runner on second base.
All players would report for spring training on March 22, back from the current calendar that calls a voluntary reporting date of Feb. 17 for pitchers, catchers and injured players, and Feb. 22 for others.
Opening day would be pushed back 27 days from its currently scheduled April 1 and the regular season would end Oct. 10 instead of Oct. 3. The postseason would extend into November.
The people familiar with the plan spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because no announcements were made. The sides have not discussed the proposal with each other since MLB made it.
A day before the plan was presented, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he would like to know by his regular Monday call with owners if the union had interest in delaying the start of spring training.
The reasoning behind the delay would be to gain time for more vaccinations and better assess the health situation.
Seven teams in each league would make the playoffs, and only the division winner with the best record would receive a bye in the best-of-three first round. There would be a selection show in which the seeded teams would be able to, in order of percentage, select their first-round opponent. The three advancing teams in each league and the one with a bye would advance to the best-of-five Division Series, starting the traditional rounds of the postseason.
While the plan says players would receive 100% of pay if all 154 scheduled games are played, Manfred would have an expanded right to stop spring training, the regular season or the postseason under certain conditions. Those would be if government restrictions prevent five or more teams from playing home games even without fans, if government rules restrict travel in the United States, if Manfred determines after consultation with medical experts and the union there is an unreasonable safety risk to players or staff or if the number of regular major leaguers unavailable because of COVID-19 undermines completive integrity.
Each team would start with 18 scheduled days off, and each team would be allowed to be scheduled up to 12 split doubleheaders.
Players usually are reluctant to agree to split doubleheaders because of the lengthy day at the ballpark each entails
The regular season would be compressed to 154 games in 166 days from 162 games in 186 days.
The World Series would be scheduled to end in the Nov. 10 range, with the exact time depending on discussions with broadcast partners.
As part of the plan, owners would guarantee a postseason players’ pool of 60% of the gate of the first two first-round games plus $80 million for the remainder of the postseason, matching the 2019 pool.
Players previously rejected a proposal teams made Jan. 5 for expanded playoffs in exchange for extending the DH to the National League.
Last season was cut from 162 games per team to 60, and the postseason was expanded to 16 teams and ended Oct. 27 when the Los Angeles Dodges beat the Tampa Bay Rays in World Series Game 6. Players received 60/162nds of their salaries.
No fans were allowed during the regular season last year, which because of the pandemic started July 23 rather than March 26. About 11,000 fans per game attended the NL Championship Series and World Series, both played at the neutral site in Arlington, Texas. In a deal for expanded 16-team playoffs in 2020, MLB guaranteed a postseason players’ pool of $50 million.