By Sam Bush
Major League Baseball is trying to determine when it will begin its season, and regular-season games could stretch into October and playoff games could be played at neutral sites in November, either in warm-weather cities or, if government officials allow indoor events, domed stadiums, according to ESPN.
Expanded-playoff scenarios have been under discussion but are likely to be settled as the scope of the coronavirus outbreak becomes clearer and a firm outline of a championship season is set, sources said.
The season was due to start tomorrow, March 26, and the sides have targeted today as a deadline to decide on a scenario of a cancellation of the 2020 season and its impact on service time, which counts the number of days played in the major leagues and determines a number of milestones — including when a player reaches free agency and arbitration — has complicated negotiations, sources said.
Some of the game’s highest-profile players have been engaged in discussions, with Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole, the Phils Bryce Harper, Zack Greinke, Pete Alonso, Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Anthony Rendon and David Price among the 100 or so who participated in a union conference call Sunday to discuss the issues, sources said.
The uncertainty delayed Opening Day two weeks and then pushed the start of the season back to May 10 at the earliest. The likelihood of the pause lasting longer is significant enough that MLB and the players are acknowledging a number of interruptions to regular business, including:
- A later start to the season than June: Multiple officials pointed toward July — and specifically around the All-Star Game in Los Angeles — as a potentially powerful way to kick off the 2020 season. On the other hand, if games start in late June or early July, it could complicate All-Star week.
- Games in front of no fans: While both sides would prefer games with crowds — an estimated 30% of revenue comes from gate receipts — they recognize that health officials might quash such an idea depending on the severity of outbreaks. Further, widespread adoption of social distancing could cut into the number of fans that attend games when they do resume.
- Games at neutral sites: Even during the regular season, teams in metropolitan areas with the highest prevalence of COVID-19 could play games at spring-training facilities if outbreaks aren’t quelled.
- A shortened “spring training”: Rather than spending a month ramping pitchers back up, MLB could opt for an abbreviated second spring and instead expand rosters to allow teams to carry extra pitchers.
- Questions about the draft and international signing period: With hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on amateur players, teams are balking at such an expense, particularly if games have not returned by the scheduled June 10 draft and July 2 start to signing international amateurs. The concerns are particularly acute with high school and college seasons canceled and scouts currently pulled off the road.
- A transaction freeze: If an agreement is reached, teams could adopt an embargo on signings and trades.
- Changes to the arbitration system: Arbitration, which is a precedent-based system that uses statistics to award players’ salaries in their fourth, fifth and sixth major league seasons, would probably need adjusting — particularly with the expectation that salaries will be depressed going into 2021 because of lessened revenue.