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MLB tells players 2020 season must be 60 games or fewer

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols throws the ball during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Tempe, Ariz.
FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols throws the ball during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Tempe, Ariz. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File

The players’ association was told by Major League Baseball on Friday that teams will not agree to more than 60 games in the pandemic-delayed season, leaving open the possibility of an even shorter schedule of perhaps 50 games or fewer.

While the NBA and NHL have found ways to restart their sports, baseball has been unable to cope with the economic dislocation because of the new coronavirus and the prospect of playing in empty ballparks, reverting to the fractious labour strife that led to eight work stoppages from 1972-95. With time slipping away, the sport will have at best its shortest schedule since the dawn of professional baseball in the 1870s.

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Complicating any possible resumption, Philadelphia and Toronto closed their training sites in Florida and San Francisco shut down its facility in Arizona following positive tests for COVID-19 or symptoms that could indicate the disease. The Phillies said five players were among eight individuals who had tested positive.

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Texas also shut its camp in Arizona, saying no players or staff had tested positive but that it wanted to expand its testing protocols.

Players and MLB are increasingly dismayed with each other and appear headed to a spring training lockout in 2022. Still, they agree on one novelty: MLB’s latest proposal this week include starting extra innings with a runner on second base, and the union’s counter-proposal said that would be acceptable for 2020 only, in the event of an agreement.

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Coronavirus: How professional sports plans to return in the COVID-19 era

That aspect, first reported by USA Today, was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcements were made.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred flew to Arizona and met with union head Tony Clark for five hours on Tuesday in an effort to end the fighting and strike a deal. Manfred said the next day the sides had reached a framework for a 60-game regular season schedule and the full prorated pay that players had demanded, and the postseason would expand from 10 teams to 16 this year and either 14 or 16 in 2021. Like the extra-innings experiment, the larger postseason would occur only in the event of an agreement.

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But Clark refused to call it a framework and said his eight-player executive subcommittee rejected it. The union countered with a 70-game schedule as part of a proposal that left the sides about $275 million apart.

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“MLB has informed the association that it will not respond to our last proposal and will not play more than 60 games,” the union said in a statement on Friday night. “Our executive board will convene in the near future to determine next steps. Importantly, players remain committed to getting back to work as soon as possible.”

A meeting of the executive board is likely to take place Saturday.

Absent an agreement, Manfred has the right to announce a schedule of any length MLB chooses, but the union has threatened a grievance claiming it would not meet the sides’ agreement that requires “the fullest 2020 championship season and postseason that is economically feasible” and consistent with additional provisions. The union also thinks teammates understate revenue and would ask arbitrator Mark Irvings to order a broad financial disclosure of broadcast, stadium, real estate and other agreements involving MLB, its clubs and affiliates and the entities and individuals that own them and do business with them.

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Bo Bichette representing Blue Jays in MLB The Show Players Tournament

Both sides envision opening day on July 19 or 20, and a need first for three days of testing and three weeks of training. That leaves only a few days for a deal that would allow pitchers and catchers to start workouts next weekend.

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Players originally were set to earn about $4 billion in salaries this year, the fifth straight year of relatively flat payrolls. That total would be cut to $1.73 billion for a 70-game schedule, $1.48 billion for 60 games and $1.23 billion for 50 games — roughly matching the total in MLB’s initial proposal for an 82-game schedule with a sliding salary scale.

In addition, MLB has offered a $25 million postseason players’ pool. even if there is a lack of fans. The union has proposed $50 million. Normally, the pool is funded from postseason ticket sales.

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The sides reached an agreement on March 26 that included prorated salaries, $170 million in salary advances and a guarantee of service time if no games are played. That deal says the season shall not start without Manfred’s consent unless there are no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada, no restrictions on mass gatherings that prevent games in all 30 regular season ballparks and it is safe to play before fans in all 30 stadiums. The deal called for “good faith” discussions on the economic feasibility of playing in empty ballparks or neutral sites.