We’re still just days removed from the announcement that baseball will return in 2020, as the league and the Players Union finally came to terms on an agreement for a 60-game season on Tuesday.
Play Ball! It was ugly and contentious but finally there will be a baseball season. It no longer is a marathon but will be a furious sprint to a wacky finish in 60-game season starting July 24 weekend. https://t.co/MskY8fG0ca
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 23, 2020
However, with the country still amid a pandemic, there remains a ton of uncertainty as to how this year will play out. Although on Wednesday afternoon, following a conference call headed by Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman provided some notes regarding the team’s upcoming season, and I recommend checking out his piece in its entirety, but below I’ve offered a few takeaways from his write-up:
Camp is starting… very soon
Earlier this week, as MLB’s 60-game proposal was already making headlines, it was widely known that to pull off a season, the sport would be required to start up at some point in early July. For baseball to gather all of the players, have some form of a Spring (or summer) camp, AND ensure that a majority of the league doesn’t test positive for COVID-19, it’s only common sense that a season would need to begin ASAP.
For the Braves, and perhaps all 29 other organizations, Bowman relays that pitchers and catchers will report to Truist Park in Atlanta by July 1, with position-players following suit in the days after. With 30 players on the active roster and another 30 as part of a taxi squad, the start of Braves camp is less than a week away… and that’s dang exciting.
Wait… the Braves can roster 60 players?
Well, yes and no. One of the many details worked out by the league and the MLBPA was the implementation of expanded rosters, given the amount of time players’ have been idle and the injury risk it presents. To begin the 2020 season, teams will be allowed 30 players on their active roster, dropping to 28 after the first two weeks and finally down to the originally planned 26 after four weeks, followed by absolutely no expanded rosters during September. However, throughout the entirety of the 2020 season, teams will be allowed to have a “taxi squad,” consisting of prospects and fringe major leaguers that could grow to as high as 24 players as the big league roster is reduced. The Braves, and all 29 other MLB teams, have until 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday to submit their 60-man roster to begin the season.
Once the rosters are official, teams will then send 20 of their 60 players to a secondary site for training camp, which for the Braves will be nearby Coolray Field — home of their Triple-A team, the Gwinnett Stripers. The Stripers’ home park — just 35 miles from Truist Park — will also serve as an in-season training facility for the Braves, where the organization’s top prospects and vital minor league depth can scrimmage and train together.
How a 60-game schedule will work
An official 2020 MLB regular season schedule should be coming soon, but a foundation has already been laid regarding the Braves’ opponents.
According to the agreed-upon proposal for the upcoming season, all teams will face intra-division opponents ten times each and division counterparts residing in the same geographic area but the opposite league. The Braves will play a combined 40 games versus the Phillies, Nationals, Mets, and Marlins, followed by another 20 games against the five AL East clubs (each via four-game series).
The set-up isn’t ideal for those of us that enjoy the occasional in-season Braves/Dodgers series, and facing the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays doesn’t seem like fun. However, staying on the East Coast at least keeps travel to somewhat of a minimum. Remember, COVID-19 is still very much prevalent within the U.S., and it’s a situation the league will be forced to monitor all season long.
Braves injury updates
If you recall, veteran starting pitcher Cole Hamels injured himself during a weighted-ball exercise back in February, setting himself up to start the 2020 season on the injured list with an absence that was originally expected to last through May. Well, we’re almost a month past his initial return date, so Hamels’ left shoulder should be good to go for a July 23 or 24 opening day. However, yesterday, Anthopolous said that the Braves will be super careful with the crafty lefty. Per Bowman, Hamels is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Friday, and if all goes well, he should be on the Braves’ opening day roster.
And of course, there’s still a bit of concern regarding Freddie Freeman’s right elbow, which he had an operation on over the winter, but given the first baseman had already played seven games and was hitting .400 during the first Spring Training, it’s probably safe to say he’s fully recovered. Still, as Bowman alluded to in his write-up, the Braves may try to keep Freeman rested during Spring Training 2.0.
Lastly, Ender Inciarte’s hamstring issues — of which caused him to miss most of the regular season and postseason — from 2019 appear to be gone as well, although he was scratched in early March this spring due to dehydration. Regardless, Inciarte will enter the shortened 2020 campaign at full health, which is excellent given he’s coming off the worst year of his career.
Position battles and DH options
Perhaps Bowman’s most valuable insight on Wednesday pertained to the possibility that the Braves could limit pitching workloads for their starting staff during the first part of the regular season (even if it’s a rather common strategy). He mentions Felix Hernandez, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, and Touki Toussaint as potential fill-in starters, as it could prove beneficial if the Braves were able to ease in its five regular starters slowly. 30-man active rosters and an additional 30-man taxi squad should provide the Braves with plenty of flexibility when it comes to workload, and the team certainly rosters enough depth to take advantage.
After the 2020 season, who knows, but at least this year, the DH will be league-wide, creating an opening for the Braves. Bowman lists Nick Markakis — who wields an .823 OPS over his last two seasons versus righty pitching — as an option, as well as Austin Riley, Adam Duvall, and even Marcell Ozuna when the Braves are up against left-handed pitchers. Either way, I believe the Braves’ DH spot will vary depending on the opposing starter, recent performance, and even other variables like defense. The Braves don’t have just a pure power-hitter to DH every night, but they do have several options they can plug in to help lengthen the lineup. Personally, starting Johan Camargo at third base and utilizing Austin Riley (vs. LHP) and Nick Markakis (vs. RHP) as platoon mates at DH seems like a good idea. However, we’ll most likely see several different scenarios there to start the season.
Speaking of Camargo and Riley, they both have a third base battle to continue when Spring Training 2.0 starts. Bowman raises a good point that the lack of a minor league season limits Riley’s development if he were to lose the third base competition. Good thing he still has time to win it.
Extra innings… Trade Deadline… and more
The minors have already been experimenting with it, but in 2020, the majors will enforce the runner-on-second rule (as I like to call it). Each half-inning following the 9th will start with a runner on second, giving the offense a better chance at scoring, which should reduce the crazy 15-inning affairs we sometimes see during a season. As a fan of baseball staying just the way it is, I don’t love the rule… but it was a matter of time before this happened. Plus, MLB can’t afford to drag out games any more than it has to, given teams must play all 60 games in just 66 days.
Usually set for July 31 each season, the MLB trade deadline has been pushed back exactly one month to August 31 in 2020. This change was expected and shouldn’t matter much other than that teams will probably have less of an idea of where they’re at — competitively speaking — than in previous seasons. That could result in a rather bland trade deadline, though there’s not much of a solution considering how short the season will be. Last year, the Braves played Game 109 at the deadline, but this year they’ll only have played around 30 or so games. Big decisions will have to be made much sooner than usual.
Pre-COVID, baseball was looking into reverting to the old days of a 15-day injured list, at least for pitchers. However, that plan has been put to the side, as all players will be subject to a 10-day IL stint. Injuries of any kind could be catastrophic for teams this season. An ailment that cost a player eight weeks in standard years wouldn’t be much of an issue, but now a two-month IL trip ends that player’s season (hence the aforementioned expanded rosters).
Lastly, the cutoff date to be eligible for the 2020 postseason will be September 15, meaning a player must be added to the team’s 40-man roster by that date to participate in this year’s playoffs.
The 2020 season will be unlike any other in the past, but at this point, the mere fact that baseball’s back is enough to outweigh the possible negatives of such a shortened season.