Rob Manfred: MLB teams should plan for spring training to start on time, full 162-game season to be played

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred informed clubs Monday that they should be preparing for spring training to start on time in February and to plan on a full 162-game season being played, three people with direct knowledge of the conference call told USA TODAY Sports.

The people spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Major League Baseball was hoping to delay the season by at least a month to provide more time for players and fans to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, enabling fans to get back into ballparks earlier. But the Major League Baseball Players Association vigorously fought it.

MLB does not have the legal right to unilaterally delay the start of the season without approval from the union because of the collective bargaining agreement, and the union made it clear it wouldn't accept anything less than 100% pay for the season.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media in December 2019. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY Sports)

“While there will continue to be challenges,’’ the union said in a prepared statement to The Athletic last month, “our players have proven they can safely play a season under difficult circumstances, as have the other sports.’’

The 2020 season was limited to just 60 games with players receiving only 37% of their salaries, while Manfred said teams lost $3 billion.

It’s unknown when fans will eventually be permitted to attend games, but no team has begun selling spring-training tickets. Spring training begins Feb. 17 in Arizona and Florida, with opening day scheduled April 1.

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MLB and the union are undergoing negotiations for health and safety protocols, as well as whether there will be a universal DH and expanded playoffs.

MLB employed a DH in the National League for the first time last year with a 16-team playoff field, but unless the two sides agree on changes, the DH will be used only in the American League in 2021 and revert back to a 10-team playoff field.

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