MLB, MLBPA agree to health protocols, paving way to 2020 season

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred takes questions about the Houston Astros while holding his press conference at Braves spring training in February. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred takes questions about the Houston Astros while holding his press conference at Braves spring training in February. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

It’s official: There will be a 2020 MLB season, unless the pandemic interferes again.

MLB and the Players Association finalized their health and safety protocols Tuesday. The parties also agreed to a July 1 report date for the rebooted spring training.

MLBPA issued a statement: “All remaining issues have been resolved and players are reporting to training camps.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred plans to implement a 60-game season after the owners and the MLBPA couldn’t agree on a return-to-play deal. Manfred, as per the oft-referenced March agreement, can set a schedule of his desired length.

While it’s a last-resort decision, it does revive baseball for 2020 (COVID-19 permitting). The players were given a deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday to answer two questions for the league: Can players report to camps July 1 and will the MLBPA sign off on the operating manual’s health and safety protocols?

The players agreed to the July 1 report date (arrivals will be staggered and players will undergo testing). The other answer was provided after the parties negotiated a few hours beyond that deadline, finalizing a deal after 8 p.m.

The new “spring” training begins July 1. Opening day would be July 24, according to multiple reports. Such a schedule means teams would play 60 games in 66 days.

A revised regular-season schedule should be provided within the next 72 hours, according to USA Today.

From the Braves’ on-field perspective, their pennant bid is back on. They won’t have to worry about Marcell Ozuna and Cole Hamels becoming free agents without ever playing a game for the team either. Instead, they can shift their focus to a season that might be their best chance to win it all in two decades.

Outside of the Dodgers – who might have avoided a twisted fate of losing former MVP Mookie Betts without ever seeing him in blue – the Braves have a strong case as the most talented team in the National League.

A 2020 season means the Braves, their fans and the sport itself didn’t lose a valuable season of the young Ronald Acuna-Ozzie Albies duo, prime Freddie Freeman and another potential growing campaign for Mike Soroka and Max Fried.

It means baseball won’t go 18 long months without playing, though the league’s and union’s failure to reach an agreement further tarnished their relations ahead of the collective bargaining agreement’s December 2021 expiration date.

But for now, the focus will soon shift back to on-field dynamics that’ll make for the most unique season in MLB history.

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