TORONTO – As the distasteful back-and-forth between Major League Baseball and its players continues, the Blue Jays have focused their planning for potential 2020 home games on the Rogers Centre in Toronto and TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla.
The club’s preference remains hosting all their games north of the border, and president and CEO Mark Shapiro has been in near-daily contact with federal government officials toward that end.
This week he was added to the national Registry of Lobbyists, submitting as part of Policies or Programs related to COVID-19 pandemic impacts on professional sport in Canada.
On Thursday night The Canadian Press, citing a federal official, reported that the government has issued a council order allowing one of the candidate cities — Toronto, Edmonton or Vancouver — to serve as an NHL hub city.
The order would allow players to bypass the country’s 14-day arrival quarantine and was approved only after the NHL established a plan that met public health requirements, according to the national news agency.
Momentum on that front, along with progress in limiting the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, has created more optimism than there was a month ago that the Blue Jays could play in Toronto, as well.
For now, though, the border remains closed through July 21, a couple days after the proposed season currently being negotiated by owners and players would start, and may not open at all.
That’s why work is simultaneously being done at TD Ballpark to ensure the Blue Jays’ spring home is capable of hosting big-league games, if needed. Key on that front is the installation of new lights that will bring the stadium up to big-league standards for night games.
The Blue Jays, to some degree, considered using other locations, as well, including Tropicana Field and Marlins Park, but decided to lock in on Dunedin as its secondary location. There is no prep work happening around other venues, including Sahlen Field, home to the triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons.
Though bickering between owners and players continued Thursday, their exchanges at this point appear are more tactical than fundamental.
The union countered the league’s framework of a 60-game season at full pro-rated pay with a proposal for a 70-game schedule that includes expanded playoffs both this year and next.
“We believe this offer represents the basis for an agreement on resumption of play,” players association head Tony Clark said in a statement.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that owners are expected to reject that plan and are likely to submit another counter to narrow an estimated gap of $300 million between the sides.
“This needs to be over,” commissioner Rob Manfred told Nightengale. “Until I speak with the owners, I can’t give you a firm deadline.”
Manfred raised hopes that a deal was imminent when, in a statement Wednesday, he said the sides had reached the framework of an agreement during a Tuesday meeting with Clark in Phoenix.
The union immediately denied an agreement had been reached, and in a subsequent statement Thursday, Clark said that, “in my discussions with Rob in Arizona we explored a potential pro rata framework, but I made clear repeatedly in that meeting and after it that there were a number of significant issues with what he proposed, in particular the number of games.”
“It is unequivocally false to suggest that any tentative agreement or other agreement was reached in that meeting,” Clark continued. “In fact, in conversations within the last 24 hours, Rob invited a counterproposal for more games that he would take back to the owners. We submitted that counterproposal (Thursday).”
While the ongoing rhetoric is sure to further alienate disgruntled fans tired of the ongoing conflict in the midst of economic hardship caused by the pandemic, the sides are wrestling over numbers now, rather than structure, which marked a pivotal point of progress.
Should they settle, the Blue Jays will face a sprint to not only prepare for a season, but to also settle on which locale they’ll ultimately use as their home.