As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the US, the reality of the MLB playing a shortened season has become inevitable. Despite both sides wanting to complete the full 162-game slate — with the earliest potential start date being mid-May (although, that seems unlikely at this point) — something between a 100 and 140-game season appears much more fathomable. As a result, the league has begun to prepare for all possible outcomes, even the worst, and some of those details were released today — via Jeff Passan of ESPN and others.
In regards to when the season will start, here’s the answer:
* The caveat agreed to by the players and league is that they will consider playing games at neutral sites instead of home ballparks — and will consider the feasibility of playing in empty stadiums and just how proper a solution it may be for both sides and especially fans.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 27, 2020
With that in mind, the idea of the season going into late October, November, and possibly even December is on the table. Since the weather might affect many areas in these later months, the potential for neutral site games in the playoffs is also in play, according to Jon Heyman.
Playoffs/World Series would be late October and well into November. Neutral site, warmer weather World Series is on table. May depend on whether cold-climate teams make World Series. Obvious examples would be Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston. Again, everything on table.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 27, 2020
The next piece of information dealt with the players and how they will be taken care of over these next two months in which baseball won’t be played. Major League Baseball is advancing them $170 million for April and May that will be kept by the players, whether there is a season or not.
Speaking of no season, if that were to happen, contract situations have to be dealt with. Will the players lose that year off their deal, or will the league act like it never happened. According to Passan, “they (players) will get full service time,” meaning guys on the last years of their deals (Marcell Ozuna and Cole Hamels in the Braves’ situation) will become free agents. So there’s a legit possibility, Atlanta’s two most significant signings of the offseason never even play a game in a Braves uniform.
Passan notes as well that players heading into arbitration will not be held to the standards they typically would in a full season (regarding the stats that determine their salary), which is the only fair way to go about things.
The deal also has some significant implications in regards to the draft and the international signing period. Expect the June draft to be much shorter than usual, as the league has the right to reduce it to as short as five rounds this year and 20 rounds in 2021. They could also push the international signing period back to January of 2021.
All teams will be affected by a shorter draft, but the Braves will be especially impacted by the international signing period being moved. They were finally going to be back in the market for international players this summer, as some of their restrictions were going to be partially lifted, and there have already been rumors circulating about their first major signing in the market since John Coppolella’s transgressions.
There are several other ideas being tossed around that MLB has been talking about for years as well, like expanding the playoff format. According to Jon Heyman, the league is considering expanding the playoffs from 10 to 14 teams this year, which would serve as an experiment, while also adding some excitement, and of course, boost revenue that would otherwise be lost in a shortened season.
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
We are a long way from baseball, so many of these decisions are up in the air, but at least MLB is preparing for every possible situation and will be doing everything they can to have a season in 2020.