We’ve never experienced a baseball season quite like this one.
Wait, back up. We’ve never experienced a lead-up to the baseball season quite like the lead-up to the 2020 season, and we still don’t know how exactly this will play out.
With the season on pause as the country — and the world — deals with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the powers-that-be at MLB have considered just about every option possible and explored every scenario, no matter how bizarre they might seem.
A couple of thoughts before we dig in to some of the reported scenarios. The biggest challenge is this: So many factors are outside of MLB’s control, which is why the league HAS to explore every possible option. For starters, baseball cannot resume until there is an abundance of tests. A sport cannot take away resources needed by the nation at large. And, if MLB wants teams to play in their own home parks, that’s going to have to be approved by state and local governments. No small task.
And then, there are the contingencies that have to be in place. What happens if baseball restarts and a player tests positive? What happens if there’s a second wave that spreads across the country? Baseball can’t make that up on the fly. And what is MLB’s plan for keeping its players, coaches and staff safe? It’s not like the virus is on its last legs.
Oh, and with the lost revenue from a lack of fans in the stands, MLB and the MLBPA will have to sort out how players will be paid for this season. They need to be very, very careful about those negotiations leaking out though, because NOBODY wants to hear billionaires squabbling with millionaires over how to split all that money.
As for the potential schedules, start dates and league alignments, we’re going to quickly recap some of the previous reports and keep track of new reports — and, hopefully, eventually concrete details — as they happen.
The owners agreed on a proposal
Date: May 11
Report: The MLB owners approved a plan for a shortened 2020 regular season starting in early July, and that proposal is being sent to the players on May 12. (Various reports, including USA Today)
Thoughts: Let’s wait and see what’s in the proposal before passing judgments. One facet that bears watching was reported in the lede of the USA Today story:
Major League Baseball owners approved a proposal Monday requiring teams to share 50% of their revenue with the Major League Baseball Players Association should plans to play this year proceed, three people with direct knowledge of the proposal told USA TODAY Sports.
The players aren’t going to like this, because it mean they’ll almost certainly be making less than what they thought they were agreeing to a couple months ago, which is that they’d receive a prorated portion of their original salaries, based on how many games were played.
Oh, and there's also this ...
Bear with me, but it feels like we've zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season. Here are some things I'll be looking for in the proposal...
— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) May 11, 2020
A proposal is imminent
Date: May 9
Report: Conference call on May 11, proposal could be sent to the players by May 12 (Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic).
Thoughts: The primary news here is the timeline, but Rosenthal’s report has other details, too. The season would be begin in early July and be around 80 games long, and the schedule would be regionalized. From his report:
A 78-game schedule might look like this: Four three-game series against each division opponent and two three-game series against each non-division opponent.
Teams would play in home parks, when possible. Rosters would be expanded, upwards of 50 players (though not everyone would be eligible every game).
A proposal is nearly ready!
Date: May 6
Report: MLB is preparing to send a proposal to the MLBPA within a week (Jeff Passan, ESPN)
Thoughts: After months of reports that talked about all the options MLB was mulling over, this was the first time it had been officially reported that MLB was close to settling on a plan. This one, Passan writes, would have spring training starting in mid June, with the season starting in early July.
Actual possible starting dates!
Date: May 4
Report: Spring training will start June 10, with the season beginning July 1 (Trevor Plouffe)
Want some good baseball news??
I just heard from multiple sources that on June 10th, Spring Training 2 will start. July 1st will be Opening Day and all teams will be playing at their home ballparks.
We’ll be discussing it in full on the next @TalkinBaseball_
— Trevor Plouffe (@trevorplouffe) May 4, 2020
Thoughts: This tweet sparked a lot of backlash, probably because it came from someone other than a baseball reporter. But Plouffe is still very close to people in the game; he retired after the 2018 season, after nine years in the big leagues. And Passan’s report, which was just a couple of days later, gave a ton of validity to Plouffe’s tweet.
Home ballparks, with no leagues and three big divisions
Date: April 28
Report: MLB could resume its season in June, with team playing in their home ballparks. Also, normal league structures would be abandoned in favor of three geographically aligned 10-team divisions. (Bob Nightengale, USA Today)
Thoughts: Further confirmation of just how much outside-the-box thinking was involved in discussions. In previous scenarios, where teams were staying in two or three locations, temporary league realignment would have been unavoidable. But this report showed that, even if teams were hosting games in their regular home ballparks, the league structure could look very, very different. Here’s the alignment suggested in the USA Today piece:
EAST: New York Yankees and Mets, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins
WEST: Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners
CENTRAL: Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers
Yeah. The 2020 season is gonna be strange, folks.
The Arizona/Florida/Texas plan
Date: April 22
Report: This one came from CBS Sports: “In this arrangement, the league would have teams stationed in one of three hubs: Florida, Arizona or Texas. The clubs would then make use of the local major- and minor-league (or spring training) facilities and play regular season games behind closed doors without fans.”
Thoughts: It’s similar to another plan, but adding Texas to the mix opens up more ballparks. Also, this was especially important in April: Texas governor Greg Abbott was actively trying to get professional sports rebooted in his state.
The Arizona/Florida plan
Date: April 10
Report: Baseball could resume the season playing only in Florida and Arizona, with teams using their spring training facilities. (Bob Nightengale, USA Today)
Thoughts: Under this plan, there would be no National League and no American League, only Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. This would eliminate air travel, and at least theoretically be easier to keep players and their families quarantined.
The Arizona plan
Date: April 6
Report: All 30 teams would play their games in and around Phoenix, with players and their families quarantined at hotels. The season could start as early as May. (Jeff Passan, ESPN)
Thoughts: The idea was, by using the spring training facilities in the Phoenix area, and possibly multiple games per day at Chase Field, the entire season could have been played in Arizona. Lots of problems with this, of course, but this one stands out: It’s one thing to play spring training games in open-air stadiums in Phoenix in March, when the average daily high temperature is 77; it’s another thing to play games there in June (avg. high 104 degrees), July (106 degrees), August (105 degrees) and September (100 degrees). There’s a reason the Diamondbacks play in a stadium with a retractable roof.