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Report: MLB health, safety proposal includes regular testing, prohibitions on spitting, other behaviors

MLB owners have submitted a proposal to the players’ union regarding health and safety protocols for starting the season. We break down some of the notable aspects.

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A general view of Charlotte Sports Park from the outfield of a Grapefruit League spring training game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox on March 11, 2020 in Port Charlotte, Florida. Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Major League Baseball owners have submitted a health and safety proposal to the players’ union, and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich obtained a copy of it. It is a 67-page document that covers testing, operations during spring training, facility protocols, on-field operations, and team travel.

Testing is the most important of this process. There will be intake testing at each team’s spring training site, and all individuals will undergo testing “multiple times per week.” The proposal says that asymptomatic individuals will undergo temperature checks and symptom screens at least twice daily. While that will help check for any changes in symptoms, if a player has acquired the virus but is not symptomatic and is in between tests, that opens the door for spreading the disease. It’s better than nothing, but it’s something players will factor into their decision-making as they review the proposal.

The document does not appear to get into specifics on start dates or locations for spring training, but it does appear to leave the door open for it to take place in Florida and Arizona. Rosenthal and Drellich mention, “To address heat concerns, spring-training games in Florida and Arizona would begin between 7 and 9 pm local time.”

Related to spring training, teams will be allowed up to 50 players on their roster. Most expect the minor league season to be canceled, and so some kind of expanded rosters will likely remain in effect once the MLB regular season gets underway.

One of the more interesting aspects of the proposal says, “Four-man umpiring crews would be used with the possibility of adding a fifth and using multiple plate umps when temperatures reach certain levels.” A rotating home plate umpire would be of particular note given the proclivity of umpires to have varying strike zones. This will be worth tracking in warm weather locations.

There are a host of in-game changes that won’t drastically change strategy and the like, but are notable nonetheless. Among them from The Athletic:

  • No exchange of lineup cards, they’ll be inputted into an application
  • When the ball is out of play or in between pitches, fielders are encouraged to retreat several steps away from the baserunner.
  • Catchers are permitted to step on the grass toward the mound to give signs if he needs to stand to relay signs to infielders.
  • Non-playing personnel must wear masks at all times in dugout.
  • Spitting is prohibited.

Finally, there is the issue of travel. The proposal would push for teams to travel into smaller airports. When teams travel, anybody that’s part of the traveling party are not to leave the hotel unless they receive advanced approval, and only immediate family members are permitted to visit players’ rooms. There are no formal quarantines in place, but the proposal would push for players to isolate at hotels, and will have luggage sent directly to their rooms and not require returning a key or visiting the front desk to check out.

The Athletic goes into more detail here. This is the league’s proposal and something they have been discussing with the players this past week. There will likely be adjustments to it as both sides discuss concerns and issues. Once that is sorted out, the two sides will get into the economics, which could be the bigger hurdle to restarting the season.