Arizona's Cactus League has requested that Major League Baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred delay the start of spring training due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a release obtained by Brahm Resnik of 12 News.
"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 statement reads.
"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 Feb. 15 and 3,072 daily infections on March 15)."
MLB said it's monitoring the situation as it develops.
"As we have previously said publicly, we will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts, and the players' association whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of spring training and the championship season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees, and other gameday personnel in a sport that plays every day," the league announced in a statement, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The MLBPA also issued a statement on the Cactus League's request.
"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 takes place as safely as possible," read the statement.
Spring training is slated to begin after pitchers and catchers report in mid-February with the regular season scheduled to open April 1. MLB and the players' union would need to agree to any delay to spring training or the regular season as the Cactus League doesn't have the authority to impose the delay itself, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.
However, MLB and the players' union are not currently engaged in conversations about potentially moving back the start of the campaign, sources told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
The union wants to play a 162-game schedule at full pay after playing a reduced 60-game slate in 2020. The league reportedly approached the union about delaying the season in early December, Rosenthal notes. But the union apparently balked when the league wouldn't commit to extending the campaign or paying the players for any games missed.
In addition to the impasse regarding a possible delay, there is also the question of rule changes. The players rejected the league's proposal to continue with an expanded postseason schedule in exchange for adopting the universal designated hitter, Rosenthal reports.