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It turns out MLB might have asked the Cactus League folks to write that letter... maybe

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The plot thickens.

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You know, I would much rather be writing about Spring Training preparations, Cubs signings or trades, what we have to look forward to for the 2021 MLB season.

Unfortunately, right now all I have to present to you is bickering between Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and Maricopa County, home to 15 MLB teams during Spring Training.

Report to you on these things I must, so here goes.

Early Monday, we learned that mayors of all the Cactus League host cities plus the league’s executive director had written a letter to Major League Baseball asking that Spring Training be delayed a month.

Only then, that same executive director told ESPN’s Jeff Passan later Monday that well, maybe she didn’t mean it after all:

“If it is determined that spring training is going to start on Feb. 27, we’re prepared for that,” Binsbacher told ESPN in an interview. “Our focus is having a safe, secure experience for all involved. We believe we can do that on the 27th. We believe we can do that a month from the 27th.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

Now, according to Alex Coffey of The Athletic, the source of that letter might have been... someone in MLB itself:

A representative for Major League Baseball encouraged members of the Cactus League to write a letter to commissioner Rob Manfred voicing a desire to delay the start of spring training, according to people with direct knowledge of a Jan. 13 meeting conducted via Zoom.

“Basically, the position that the league stated on the call was that they were open to delaying and that the players were not,” one source said. “And that a document like the letter may help push negotiations along and allow what you guys would like, which is a 30-day delay.”

Ah, ha.

MLB says: “Not us!”

Through an MLB spokesperson, the league issued a statement Tuesday morning: “It is categorically untrue that MLB requested the letter from the Cactus League. The author of the letter will confirm this fact. And, there was no need for such a request because officials from the Cactus League had publicly stated their desire for a delay prior to the meeting. In the meeting, MLB officials, consistent with our prior public statements, expressed a willingness to reevaluate our plan to open camps on time in light of the public health situation. Also consistent with our prior public statements, we acknowledged the need to work with the MLBPA which has opposed any delay.”

Bridget Binsbacher, executive director of the Cactus League, says: “Not me!”

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Binsbacher said: “During that meeting, leaders shared their views and discussed a letter with the goal of recapping those views — and any suggestion that there was pressure from any entity to write the letter is false.

“These quotes are a mischaracterization of what was said during the call. At no time did any MLB representative request a letter to pressure players on negotiations.”

Ah, ha, again. So it’s about putting pressure on the players, regardless of what was said by either party.

Look, MLB, get with the program. We all understand that you are dealing with unprecedented conditions, viz. the COVID-19 pandemic. A reminder that all of planet Earth has been dealing with these things for the last 10 months. Lives and jobs have been lost. We are, hopefully, turning the corner on the pandemic and maybe, just maybe, by late this summer or early fall we might be able to have some semblance of the “normal” we knew before mid-March, 2020.

Major League Baseball has not been immune to the job loss suffered by many businesses. Many teams have laid off non-playing staff — the Cubs let 100 people go last fall — and players played for 37 percent of their salaries in 2020, as 37 percent of the original schedule was played.

Players aren’t going to want to have their salaries reduced again in 2021. There are ways to safely play the season with a delay of about a month — start Spring Training in mid-March, and push the regular season back a month, with a postseason (likely in a bubble situation due to weather) in November. TV partners with MLB might not want that November postseason, though it would probably work out all right scheduled around NFL broadcasts. Wouldn’t a pre-Thanksgiving World Series be fun and unique?

One thing MLB certainly does not want, I’d think, is to push through with starting on time and then having to pause Spring Training or the season due to COVID outbreaks.

This is a good summation of what we’re looking at here, from The Athletic article:

In a statement released Monday afternoon, the MLBPA said it had not received any communication from the Cactus League directly and reinforced that MLB has assured the players to be prepared for spring training to start on time. The union would likely see MLB’s involvement in the creation of this letter as an attempt by the league to cut the players’ pay for a second straight season.

“I do think two things can be true,” one of the two sources said. “City leaders feel like they are doing right on health policy. The owners and league staff are using that to their advantage, perhaps without the cities having any sense about it.”

That’s all summed up in this tweet:

Dan’s right. The right thing to do is not to shorten the season by starting later, the right thing is to delay everything and play through November. The NBA and NHL have adjusted the time frame of their current seasons due to the pandemic. If MLB did so, they’d probably be able to sell more tickets to games and have fewer postponements (either COVID-related or weather-related).

To baseball owners and players: Stop the squabbling, stop the backchannel stuff, sit down and talk openly and honestly about the issues surrounding the 2021 season — and beyond. What you’re doing now is just making your fans angry.