Yesterday we talked about the service time and salary implications of the deal between Major League Baseball and the players union regarding the coronavirus shutdown, but another intriguing aspect is just how to concoct a 2020 schedule if in fact there is a season.
We know the earliest possible baseball could start up again is mid-May, and that doesn’t even factor in the time needed for spring training. In reality, the delay in the season is contingent upon the containment level of the coronavirus, or lack thereof.
Jeff Passan outlined the agreement at ESPN, specifically regarding when we might see the 2020 season restart:
As part of the agreement, obtained by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the players and MLB primarily agreed that the 2020 season will not start until each of the following conditions are met:
-There are no bans on mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans. However, the commissioner could still consider the “use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible”;
-There are no travel restrictions throughout the United States and Canada;
-Medical experts determine that there would be no health risks for players, staff or fans, with the commissioners and union still able to revisit the idea of playing in empty stadiums.
Tony Clark on possibility of playing in empty stadiums: “Very open. That possibility exists.”— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) March 27, 2020
Passan expanded on that during an interview on SportsCenter on Friday:
Just went on SportsCenter to talk about the MLB-MLBPA deal — and how the agreement leaves leeway to play games even before public-health officials allow mass gatherings. The key will be if ownership and the league want to proceed with no fans in the stands. pic.twitter.com/NEZ9maQkVu— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 27, 2020
With a season that doesn’t start until, say, June at the earliest, that could jeopardize the All-Star Game, which was scheduled to be at Dodger Stadium for the first time in 40 years this July.
"The players are open to having a discussion about just about everything. Obviously the calendar is going to dictate a lot of what can and cannot be done. But right now no door is closed,” Tony Clark says when asked whether there will be an All-Star Game in Los Angeles this year— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) March 27, 2020
A later season could also mean extending the regular season, and by extension the postseason, well into the fall.
From Ronald Blum at the Associated Press:
They also agreed to consider playing past the usual end of the postseason in late October and early November, even if it involves using neutral sites and domes. They would consider a large increase in doubleheaders to get as many games in as they can, to play without fans and to revise the postseason format.
Ken Rosenthal was a little more specific on the timing at The Athletic:
The deal ensures players will hold final approval on scheduling; the league cannot unilaterally determine how games are played, or when. Both sides say they desire to play as many games as possible. The agreement also allows for the regular season to extend into October, providing 31 more possible dates.
So a regular season through the end of October means a postseason in November, and colder weather. And that could mean potential neutral sites, something the players union is willing to do.
Tony Clark: "The opportunity to play in neutral sites is something both sides are willing to discuss" for 2020.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) March 27, 2020
But to get to that World Series, it might take teams a little longer to get there. A proposed expansion of the playoff format for 2021 that was under discussion could be in play even sooner.
MLB may expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 14 this year. It’s been proposed for subsequent years but this could be the time to experiment. Would also be a way to add big games, boost excitement and yes revenue. Nothing close to final. Almost anything is on table.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 27, 2020
Adding more teams to the playoff pool increases the likelihood of a sub-.500 team making the postseason. If we used this expanded format in the eight seasons of the current wild card era, four losing teams would have made the playoffs.
But I suspect if there is any type of 2020 MLB season at all, there will be several odd aspects to it, and a larger playoff pool is just one of them.