- The start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season has been postponed indefinitely due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
- Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have been discussing return scenarios.
- There’s a strong possibility that the 2020 season could be reduced to 80 games with an expanded playoff structure.
Slowly but surely, the sports world is grinding back to life. UFC 249 is underway as a write this, NASCAR will race from Darlington tomorrow and it won’t be long before the German Bundesliga puts European soccer back on the betting board. One thing that hasn’t changed is that the major North American team sports leagues are still ‘MIA’. The National Hockey League is at least talking about possible return scenarios. On the other hand, the National Basketball Association has done little more than ruminate over how tough things will be. The National Football League is taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude for the time being.
Major League Baseball has been the most proactive of the North American sports leagues at plotting their return. The original plan reported by ‘unnamed sources’ was to resume the 2020 season in Arizona but that’s been scrapped since players and other essential personnel didn’t want to be away from their families in a strange city for so long. MLB has also considered a format with 3 to 5 centrally located city ‘hubs’ for all games which is similar to what the NHL is looking at. Currently, the most viable scenario would have teams play in their home stadiums without fans. The thinking is that players would be safest in their own homes and being away from family wouldn’t be an issue.
The MLB originally hoped to be playing again in mid-May but since that’s just a few days away that’s not going to happen. Instead, they’re shooting for an early to mid July start date. A truncated Spring training would begin in early to mid June with most indications being for a three week training camp. Multiple reports are suggesting that the league will submit a formal proposal for restart to the MLBPA within the next few days.
SHORTENED SCHEDULE, EXPANDED PLAYOFFS
Here’s where things get interesting. Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic reported several components of the current restart proposal in an article on Saturday morning. The plan is for an 80 game season beginning in the previously mentioned early to mid July time frame. Teams would only face division rivals and those in the same geographic region, presumably to minimize travel. To the greatest possible extent, teams would play in their home ballpark to further minimize travel and to allow players to stay isolated at home with families. There’s also talk of an expanded postseason format with 7 teams heading to the postseason from each league.
These are the most salient points of the proposed restart, at least as it relates to how the season will play out. There’s plenty of other issues to deal with that are possibly contentious but not as germane to the finished product including player salaries, roster sizes, etc. In addition, there’s a few logistical snafus to be dealt with. It’s doubtful that the markets hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic including New York and Boston will be ready to host games by mid-July even without fans. Then there’s the matter of the Toronto Blue Jays–currently, all travelers to Canada are subject to 14 day quarantine.
Once Major League Baseball finalizes their proposal and sends it to the MLB Players Association we’ll quickly get a feel for how far they are apart and based on this when we’ll possibly see the season resumed. Not surprisingly, the pay structure for players is likely to be the most hotly debated and it could end up being that the league might want more games in return for more salary.