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Cactus League asks MLB to delay start of spring training amid high COVID-19 rates

Any schedule change would have to be agreed to by MLB and MLBPA

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MLB Considers Arizona Minor League Stadiums For Possible 2020 Season Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Usually by this point in the offseason we have a specific date to look forward to, of when pitchers and catchers will report to spring training. For the Dodgers, and nearly every major league team at the moment, we don’t have that date. Schedules, it seems, are no longer written in pen, but rather etched in sand.

There is even more confusion as to when spring training might start given Monday’s news of the Cactus League, formally asking Major League Baseball to delay the start of spring training because of high COVID-19 infection rates in Arizona in a letter sent on Friday.

The average of the last seven days has produced 96 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in Arizona, the highest infection rate in the U.S., per the New York Times. In the Cactus League’s letter to MLB, they cite a study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showing a potential decline in Maricopa County — home of all 10 Cactus League ballparks — from 9,712 daily infections on February 15 to 3,072 infections on March 15.

Per the collective bargaining agreement, teams aren’t allowed to require pitchers and catchers to report to spring training more than 43 days before Opening Day, which would mean the earliest reporting date to spring training would be February 17. Cactus League games are scheduled to start on Saturday, February 27, with the Dodgers on that day playing the Cubs in Mesa.

Any changes to the schedule would have to be agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA, which the Cactus League acknowledged in its letter (“We understand that any decision to delay spring training can’t be made unilaterally by MLB”).

“While we, of course, share the goals of a safe spring training and regular season, MLB 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 MLBPA said in a statement on Monday.

It seems the league and its players still disagree on many issues.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Monday morning that the league floated the idea of delaying the start of spring training, and the regular season, back in December, but the players rejected it, for a familiar reason:

The commissioner’s office floated the idea to the union in early December. The union asked if the league would be willing to lengthen the season by the same number of days it lost at the start and if not, pay players for any games missed. When the league answered no, the union indicated it did not want to discuss the matter further, maintaining that it wanted to play 162 games at full pay.

Rosenthal also reported that the league and players have butted heads over adding a universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs for 2021 as well, with owners wanting to add a pitch clock and, for spring training, an automated strike zone.

So for now there is no DH in the National League and several quality free agents available. Many teams don’t know exactly what to plan for, with spring training almost four weeks away. Then again, maybe spring training isn’t four weeks away. Who knows?