Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report in about three weeks to spring training camps in Arizona and Florida, just as they have each February for decades. That is the plan, anyway, and players are sticking to it — even though one state does not want them quite yet.
The mayors or city managers of the eight Arizona spring training communities, and the president of the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community, signed a letter to Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, on Monday, asking to delay the start of spring training.
“In view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County — with one of the nation’s highest infection rates — we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the Covid-19 situation to improve here,” the letter said, speaking for the Cactus League Association’s task force on Covid-19 compliance. “This position is based on public data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which projects a sharp decline in infections in Arizona by mid-March (an estimated 9,712 daily infections on February 15 and 3,072 daily infections on March 15).”
The letter goes on to acknowledge that M.L.B. cannot unilaterally decide to delay spring training, a point the players’ union reiterated in its statement.
“While we, of course, share the goals of a safe spring training and regular season,” the statement read, “M.L.B. has repeatedly assured us that it has instructed its teams to be prepared for an on-time start to spring training and the regular season and we continue to devote all our efforts to making sure that that takes place as safely as possible.”
The players, naturally, are eager to hold a regular 162-game schedule after earning only 37 percent of their 2020 salaries in a 60-game season. Any delay could potentially threaten a schedule that is on track to begin April 1.
A statement from M.L.B. said the league would “continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts, and the Players Association” on any possible schedule adjustments. But trust has largely eroded between the sides, which struggled to find common ground on rules for the delayed 2020 season and have been unable to reach an agreement to keep some of the modifications in place.
The league has told teams to proceed as if there would be no expanded playoffs or designated hitters in the National League, as there were in 2020. The league and the union both want such changes, but the players believe the expanded playoff format is worth more than the universal D.H. and are leery of giving away leverage with their collective bargaining agreement expiring after this season.