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Both players and owners want changes in MLB’s 2020 health and safety proposal

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The proposal presented to players was described as a “first draft.”

Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Major League Baseball owners presented a 67-page health and safety proposal to players earlier this week. A financial proposal was expected to go to players Friday.

There’s a lot to unpack with all of this. First, Andy McCullough and Marc Carig of The Athletic spoke to a number of health experts. They found many in agreement that no matter how careful MLB and players are, there will wind up being COVID-19 infections:

“Let’s face it: Infections are going to happen,” said Dr. Neel Gandhi, a professor of epidemiology and infectious disease at Emory University. “The question is how do they blunt the spread of those infections when they happen?”

Gandhi was one of several experts in his field who reviewed MLB’s initial protocols this week at the request of The Athletic. The doctors and epidemiologists relayed praise for the scope and seriousness of the document. They also raised questions about the frequency of testing, the supply-chain issues inherent in producing the necessary number of tests, the lack of mention of a plan for a player testing positive on the road, and the ability to enforce compliance over the course of many months.

Those are all valid questions. And players interviewed by ESPN.com had many other questions, including:

“The daily testing, I’m a fan of, to quickly determine our status every day,” St. Louis Cardinals infielder Paul DeJong said this week. “But given that, I’d like to see the freedom operating in the clubhouse and on the field.”

DeJong, 26, who has a college degree in biochemistry, said the off-the-field protocols won’t be an issue for him. He’s more concerned with keeping baseball the way it was before the pandemic as much as possible.

“We’d all be willing to make sacrifices as far as risks away from the field,” he said. “If that means limited exposure outside the field and in the hotel and at home, then that’s what it has to look like. ... I take care of myself off the field and eliminate my exposure and maximize my recovery. People will make sacrifices.

“Just the things inside the clubhouse we’d like to see intact as much as possible. ... Not being in the indoor [batting] cage, using batting gloves, the sunflower seeds and spitting thing. What if I got dirt in my mouth? They’re silly but I understand where they are coming from.

“Not getting to use any of the facilities that help recover our bodies is going to be a problem,” Miami Marlins pitcher Brandon Kintzler said.

One player who requested anonymity asked, “If we all test negative, why do we have to use separate baseballs?”

Apologies for the long quotes from these articles, but I thought it important, as these are all valid concerns. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic spoke to several club executives on this topic and “all indicated that they viewed the document the way the league intended, as a first draft.”

So what are some of the changes these executives would have made? Per Rosenthal, they are summed up in six major categories:

  • Increased testing
  • Greater consistency between the protocols when players are at their home facility and when they are away from the park
  • Fewer restrictions on players at hotels
  • Permission for players to shower at the park
  • Allowing players to use hydrotherapy pools at club facilities
  • Keeping indoor batting cages open

The second and third points on that list would be very difficult to enforce. Rosenthal writes about the protocols away from the park:

The document says players should avoid using any communal areas – restaurants/bars, fitness centers/health clubs, etc. But whether at spring training or during their regular season, they seemingly would be free to move around as they normally would, and teams would face little choice but to trust them to act responsibly.

And when players are on the road in hotels:

One executive said restricting players in such fashion would be “really difficult to accomplish,” adding that teams should simply encourage them to follow the same practices they do at the park – wearing masks, washing hands frequently, practicing social distancing, etc.

That all sounds good in theory, but we’re talking about as many as 1,500 players — a 30-man roster plus a 20-man “taxi squad” — and any one of them could come into contact with an infected person, even without knowingly doing so, because many people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic.

It seems as if it could be very difficult for the league and the players to come to any sort of complete agreement on these provisions before the proposed date for starting Spring Training 2.0, June 10. That’s now just 19 days away, and a proposed July 1 Opening Day is seven weeks from today. It’s not very much time — and I haven’t even mentioned any discussion of finances between players and owners, which haven’t even begun.

I’d love to see some baseball this summer, even if it’s only on TV. You’d like to see some baseball this summer. It seems as if the mountains to climb in order to get there might be too high to have this actually happen. I hope I’m wrong about that.