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The path to Major League Baseball’s return in 2020

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Plenty to plan, and still so much unknown

MLB Considers Arizona Minor League Stadiums For Possible 2020 Season Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Everything is still in the discussion phase regarding Major League Baseball’s potential restart, but given the reports this week it’s clear that folks around the league are confident there will be baseball at some point in 2020.

There are still ideas bring thrown at the wall to see what sticks, like the plan to have all 30 teams in Arizona, or splitting the league in two based on spring training homes, or the plan to open things up in only a handful of states with fewer restrictions on public gathering.

The latest idea reportedly being bandied about involves teams actually playing in their home stadiums, but with no fans in the stands. It involves realignment, obviously, because it seems 2020 in some way or another will be radically different than most years. From Bob Nightengale at USA Today:

MLB is considering a three-division, 10-team plan in which teams play only within their division – a concept gaining support among owners and executives. It would abolish the traditional American and National Leagues, and realign the divisions based on geography.

The plan, pending approval of medical experts and providing that COVID-19 testing is available to the public, would eliminate the need for players to be in isolation and allow them to still play at their home ballparks while severely reducing travel.

The part I emphasized represents the biggest caveat in all of this. Baseball can’t really return until it’s medically safe to do so. And then there are differences in how states are allowing such things. Georgia has reopened certain businesses this week, and other MLB states like Minnesota, Florida, and Colorado have or will followed suit.

California still has stay-at-home orders, though on Tuesday Governor Gavin Newsom outlined how the state would re-open gradually in phases, guided by medical experts. The timetable is unclear, but “sports without live audiences” is in the third of four stages, followed by live-audience sports allowed once the stay-at-home order is lifted.

When Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium, Petco Park, Oracle Park, or the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum might be open for games, with or without fans, is unknown, but the billion dollar industry seems intent on getting things back up and running as soon as reasonably possible.

From Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic:

The most realistic time range for Opening Day — somewhere between mid-June and July 4, in the view of most officials — would allow for an 80- to 100-game regular season, with the schedule running through October. An expanded postseason at neutral sites might follow, with the World Series ending in late November or early December.

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As momentum for the baseball season builds, some club officials even believe that opening parks to a limited number of fans might be possible in August or September in locations where the virus appears under control, an idea that seemed unthinkable only weeks ago and still might be impractical.

Jeff Passan at ESPN had similar information in his extensive overview of where MLB stands:

Finalize a plan in May. Hash out an agreement with the players by the end of the month or early June. Give players a week to arrive at designated spring training locations. Prepare for three weeks. Start the season in July. Play around an 80- to 100-game season in July, August, September and October. Hold an expanded playoff at warm-weather, neutral sites in November.

The report by Nightengale also mentioned, “Major League Baseball officials have become cautiously optimistic this week that the season will start in late June, and no later than July 2, playing at least 100 regular-season games, according to three executives with knowledge of the talks.”

So while the structure and logistics — which is obviously a huge part of all of this — still need to be worked out, at least a rough idea of the timeline for Major League Baseball’s return is becoming clearer. It’s written in pencil, of course, and may be wildly optimistic, but there seems to be at least the faintest of light at the end of a dark tunnel.