The 2020 Major League Baseball season was originally planned to open on Thursday, but things have been pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of now, officially, we wouldn’t see MLB again until at least early May. But whenever things start up again this year, if they do at all, what might this season look like?
In short, this could be different than anything we’ve ever seen in baseball.
Then again, we are already there, functionally. We’ve had labor stoppages in baseball before, including one that wiped out the 1994 World Series. But we haven’t seen the non-labor stoppage of the sport we have now since literally World War I, in 1918-19, over a century ago.
On March 16, MLB agreed to abide by CDC guidelines, which said no gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks. That takes us to May 10 as the absolute earliest baseball would start up again, but even that’s not realistic for a new opening day. Remember, spring training is over, there are no formal workouts going on, and for the most part, MLB players are home. After such a long relative downtime, players will need a new spring training to prepare for the regular season, for among other things giving starting pitchers time to ramp up again to be able to pitch reasonably deep into games.
So, it seems June would be more realistic for an earliest possible time for opening day. MLB and the players union are hashing out details for pay, service time, and various issues for an altered season, but just how long the season will last remains in question. That, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted, is fluid.
3/Schedule is still fluid based on when games can resume, but sides want to try to play as many regular season games as possible even if off days removed, doubleheaders frequent, rosters expanded to cover that, postseason pushed to Nov, even Dec neutral sites. All fluid though.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) March 25, 2020
Let’s take a look at some different potential scenarios for a revised 2020 MLB season.
A shorter season
This seems like the easiest option, just lopping off the missed time at the beginning of the season without making it up on the back end, and just keeping the normal October playoff schedule that we’re all used to.
Starting the season on June 1, for instance, would leave the Angels with 104 games, and having opening day on July 1 would have the Angels play 77 games. Such a choice might mean the need to plug in a few different games to make sure every team plays the same number of games, if anything to avoid a repeat of 1972.
A players strike lasted that year from April 1-13, and ended once owners agreed to increase the players’ pension fund, and the institution of salary arbitration. The games missed were never made up, and teams played between 153-156 games. In the American League East, the Tigers won the division at 86-70, thanks in large part to their one extra game played, and won, relative to the 85-70 Red Sox.
Playing a shorter season would also mean certain teams would play easier schedules than others — the Angels’ 10 originally scheduled games against the Astros in their first 21 games would be wiped out, for instance — but this might be unavoidable in what is a nearly unprecedented scenario for MLB.
Making up the games in a short time
Sherman mentioned adding doubleheaders and playing on off days to get in as many games as possible, as part of the ongoing discussions between MLB and the players union. At ESPN, Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel reported this:
Multiple players told ESPN they are willing to play a significant number of doubleheaders — as many as two per week — to make up for lost games and try to get as close to a full 162-game schedule as possible.
Doubleheaders are rare these days, and usually are only played to accommodate an earlier postponement. But they used to be a standard part of the baseball schedule. In the first nine years of the Angels’ existence (1961-69), they averaged 20 doubleheaders per season with a high of 24. Last season, the Halos played only one doubleheader, and it wasn’t scheduled.
The collective bargaining agreement says a team can’t play more than 20 consecutive days in a row, but one would imagine that given the circumstances, that could be relaxed in order to get more games in. Maybe an increased roster limit — not just for doubleheaders — could be a solution for this to alleviate concerns over rest, as well as get another player paid a major league salary.
Maybe the simplest way to get a full 162 games in, or something close to it, is to add all the games missed from March, April, May, and maybe June onto the back end of the season. But postponing the playoffs for two months means a December World Series. Scott Boras has a plan for that, including proposals for 144 or 162 games that would include neutral-site playoff games, that he shared with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:
Both feature a playoff schedule that would run Dec. 3-26, complete with wild-card games, five-game division series, seven-game championship series and a seven-game World Series. Postseason games would be played in eight domed stadiums and three Southern California stadiums.
“We have it all mapped out,” Boras said. “It’s workable. We’ve done climate studies, and in Southern California, the average temperature in December is 67 degrees, which is better than late March and early April in most cities. We have 11 stadiums we could play postseason games in. I’m gonna get my neutral-site World Series after all.”
There are definitely concerns with this plan, including how to follow an extended 2020 season with a “normal” 2021 campaign, with far less down time for players to recuperate in the offseason. It could lead to more injuries.
While this seems extreme, I think we are firmly outside the box given the current situation, and it’s worth considering just about anything. That sounds like just what MLB and the players union are doing. ESPN reported that both sides are considering options that include playing past October, and Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic noted this:
To make up for lost time, the players and owners are discussing a variety of options, including doubleheaders, the reduction of days off during All-Star week and the extension of the regular season past its scheduled Sept. 27 conclusion.
Whatever the two sides decide, the structure of the 2020 schedule will likely be something we’ve never seen before. But that there is a 2020 season at all would be cool, however long it lasts.