COVID-19 Roundup: A Labor Deal Is Finalized

This is the latest installment of a daily series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Yesterday, the United States overtook China and Italy in terms of the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, becoming the world leader. While there are over 82,000 confirmed cases, the true number of infections in the U.S. continues to be underreported due to testing deficiencies. As the U.S. domestic situation continues to worsen, things are seemingly under better control in parts of Asia. A locally transmitted infection was reported for the first time in three days in China, and the country’s government has decided to bar the entry of foreign citizens in a continued effort to combat the spread of the virus. It highlights a stark difference in the response to this crisis by the two countries.

A Deal Is Reached Between MLB and the Players Association

With much of the baseball world watching the classic games included as part of the Opening Day at Home festivities, MLB and the MLBPA continued negotiations over what to do in the event of a cancelled season, with a deal reportedly reached in the afternoon:

There’s a lot to examine here, as this deal touches on almost every aspect of labor relations. Eric Longenhagen wrote up the sweeping changes to the amateur draft earlier this morning:

While these developments raise some obvious other questions (such as if and where 35 rounds worth of players end up playing baseball again), the two most significant conclusions drawn by many of my sources in baseball were that the trimming of the draft is a convenient opportunity for MLB to shed rostered players in advance of minor league contraction, and that the new flexible start date for the IFA period is another precursor to an international draft.

The other major aspects of this deal concern plans for service time and salary concessions should no games be played in 2020. Jay Jaffe has an in-depth look at how this affects current players:

In general, the deal gives the league a great deal of flexibility in its attempt to salvage as much of the season as is feasible, and protects the players against the possibility that the season could be canceled entirely by addressing the thorny question of service time. However, it not only sells out amateur players with regards to this year’s draft and international signing period, it does so in ways that hint at more permanent and controversial changes sought by the league, such as a contraction of the minors and the institution of an international draft.

Despite the often-contentious relationship between the union and the league in drawing up the battle lines related to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (the current one expires following the 2021 season), this deal represents an effort by both sides to avoid prolonged public bickering over billions of dollars in the face of an international crisis. Each side made key compromises that will leave some parties unhappy.

A Player in Japan Tests Positive

Shintaro Fujinami, a pitcher on the Hanshin Tigers, became the first player in the NPB to test positive for the novel coronavirus yesterday. He was tested early on Thursday, with the team announcing a positive test later in the day:

As Jason Coskrey reports later in that same Twitter thread, Fujinami pitched in a spring training scrimmage on March 18 and reported early symptoms to his doctor this week. A number of his teammates have also reported early symptoms of the virus and NPB has shut down all baseball activity for the time being. The league had recently announced that they were aiming to being their season on April 24, but this positive test brings that date into question.

No Baseball in London

On the heels of the cancellation of the other two international series in Mexico and Puerto Rico last week, MLB has also canceled the international series in London, which was previously scheduled for June. While there’s a small chance the regular season could be underway in June, the uncertainty of when games will be played again, paired with the overwhelming logistics of putting on an international series during a worldwide crisis, made cancelling the series an easy decision.

The games played in London last year were part of a two-year agreement to play two games in London Stadium in 2019 and 2020. It’s unclear whether the cancellation of these two games between the Cardinals and the Cubs means they’ll be rescheduled for the 2021 season, or if a new agreement will have to be reached.

Jerseys Make Great Medical Masks

There is a dire need across the country for medical supplies as COVID-19 continues to overwhelm the U.S. health care system. Masks have been in particularly short supply, leading to public pleas for homemade masks to support the medical workers who are on the front lines fighting the pandemic. Fanatics, the manufacturers of officially licensed MLB jerseys, has halted production on sportsware to transform their facilities into a medical supply factory.

They plan to make one million masks and gowns using the fabric slated for baseball jerseys, which will be delivered to hospitals in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

We’ll be back next week with more news. Stay safe, and stay healthy.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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3 years ago

Not to make light of this situation but Shintaro Fujinami cannot catch a break these past few years, eh? Hopefully he recovers nice and quick from being sick and whatever threw off his career