Baseball’s initial two-week delay to the season and second delay signaling a start date in mid May, at the earliest, looks to be growing longer.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the globe, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association continue their discussions about what the 2020 season could look like once it gets going. According to a detailed report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel, both sides are currently hoping to start the season in early June and play as many games as possible. Passan also noted, however, that discussions include an even later start and what could happen in what he described as the “doomsday scenario,” where the 2020 season is not played at all.
While the biggest question on the minds of fans is when they will be able to watch their favorite teams again, the owners and the players are dealing with a lot of other issues, many of them, unsurprisingly, centering around revenue and player payment.
But of greater interest to fans is the possibility of the regular season dipping into October and the potential for playoff games to be played in domed stadiums or warm-weather cities to avoid the postseason being crippled by constant rain and snow delays. Expanded playoffs featuring more than 10 teams have also been discussed, Passan wrote.
While a second spring training of sorts still seems likely, it might not last very long. Getting pitchers back to in-season shape might be helped by allowing teams to carry extra pitchers on expanded rosters.
There’s the possibility of playing games in empty stadiums, a thought that was discussed a few weeks ago when the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States was just ramping up. But that could be tricky with different states implementing differing restrictions for large gatherings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to ban gatherings of 50 or more people — which with two 26-man rosters getting together includes every baseball game, fans or no fans — was initially set to last until mid May. With the future of this situation so unpredictable, it’s impossible to guess whether that would need to be extended.
Additionally, Passan reported that a significant number of players would be willing to play up to two doubleheaders per week in order to get as close to the typical 162-game schedule as possible. While the integrity of a season should not be discounted as motivation, especially for players and teams who had visions of competing for a championship in 2020, one must take contracts into account. A deal between the league and the union figures to guarantee players a prorated salary that would depend on the number of games played. The more games played, the closer to their original salaries players will receive.
Likewise, service time has been a focus of the discussions. In the event no season is played in 2020, what happens to players who were scheduled to be free agents this winter? What happens to players who were expected to be eligible for raises through the arbitration process? What happens to future free-agent classes?
With revenues figuring to be much lower than usual in a shortened season and particularly in the event of games taking place in empty stadiums with no tickets to be sold, teams are looking to save money by not shelling out the annual millions that go toward signing bonuses for drafted players and those signed as international free agents. The possibility of a canceled draft and international signing period was previously reported and is still under discussion, per Passan.
As you can tell, there’s still a whole lot of unknown, which remains the defining characteristic of the 2020 baseball season and the immediate future of the world, in general. Even with baseball hoping to restart soon enough for Opening Day to come in early June, that remains nothing more than hope for the time being.