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MLB suddenly concerned that coronavirus could delay start of 2020 season

What convenient timing, with negotiations at a standstill.

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Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball did an about face on Monday in a pair of ways. Manfred flipping on his claim only five days earlier that there would “100 percent” be an MLB season in 2020 caught the headlines, and rightfully so.

But the owners, backed into a corner in negotiations, are now using the coronavirus as a ploy.

After three offers from the owners which weren’t all that different than the threatened 50-game season, the MLB Players Association on Saturday called the owners’ bluff, saying any future negotiations would be futile. Players demanded that MLB implement its schedule, as is its right per the March 26 agreement between owners and players.

Manfred didn’t do that Monday, instead lamenting that a season might not happen after all, and per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, MLB told players it wouldn’t implement a schedule unless players agreed to waive their right to a grievance.

But also in the letter from deputy commissioner Dan Halem was concern over the coronavirus, per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press:

“The proliferation of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country over the last week, and the fact that we already know of several 40-man roster players and staff who have tested positive, has increased the risks associated with commencing spring training in the next few weeks,” Halem wrote in his letter to Meyer, which was obtained by the AP.

Just last week, Manfred said on MLB Network that the owners and players were “very, very close” on health and safety protocols.

Bradford William Davis at the New York Daily News reported that, despite MLB pledges, only five of 28 local health officials as of June 2 were contacted regarding leaguewide health and safety protocols.

The coronavirus is a valid concern, and a clear obstacle to any season. But the actions of the league to date has not shown a level of concern consistent with their sudden alarm that the season could be harmed.

The timing of the leak is suspicious, given that the owners don’t have many other options to prove they actually want baseball.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement that players were “disgusted” with Manfred’s comments Monday.

“This latest threat is just one more indication that Major League Baseball has been negotiating in bad faith since the beginning,” Clark said. “This has always been about extracting additional pay cuts from Players and this is just another day and another bad faith tactic in their ongoing campaign.”