Spring training is over, and the 2020 season is on hold until at least mid-May because of the coronavirus. Here are some things we know, and what could happen next.
What are the Oriole players doing? According to the agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, players can stay in their spring training locales, return to their homes or the cities where they play.
While it’s easy for players to say they’ll all stick together, as many teams said initially, spring training wasn’t supposed to end until a week from now—March 23.
At least one player departed for home on Saturday. Sunday’s directive to end large-scale organized group workouts could change minds.
Superagent Scott Boras recommended that players stay in their camps because of the superior facilities offered and to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
For Latin American players, it’s probably best for them not to return home because travel restrictions from their home countries could be imposed later, making re-entry difficult.
What has been lost? The Orioles’ final game was on March 11 at Dunedin, and 14 games, including scheduled split-squad doubleheaders on Saturday night and March 21 were scrapped. Also lost was the Orioles’ game with the New York Mets at the Naval Academy on March 24.
When MLB delayed the start of the season by at least two weeks, it wiped out 12 Oriole games, six at home: (March 26, 28-29 against the Yankees); March 30-April 1- (Boston); April 2, 4-5 (at St. Louis); and April 6-8 (at Yankees).
It was reasonable to think that the entire month of April would be lost, or nearly a quarter (18 of 80) of the Orioles’ home games, including a two-game series with the Chicago Cubs on April 14-15.
That number increased on Monday when MLB said it would be until at least mid-May before the season got started.
How will the games be made up? Since we don’t know how many games are going to be missed, it’s hard to say, but let’s guess that there’s a May return. I’m always an optimist, and I know that there are predictions the season won’t begin until late May or June.
From March 26-April 30, the Orioles were scheduled to play 31 games, and that would leave a 131-game schedule, assuming the regular season wasn’t lengthened.
Having a 131-game schedule isn’t ideal, but it still means that more that about 80 percent of the games are played. Even a late May start would mean there’d be more than 100 games.
The regular season is supposed to end September 27. A week or so of games could be added, pushing the postseason back a week.
There’s been talk of playing a few more weeks of regular-season ball and holding the postseason later in warm-weather or domed stadiums for ideal weather, but it wouldn’t be fun to see a Yankees-Nationals or Twins-Cardinals World Series played in Miami or San Diego.
Extending the postseason could have consequences on the 2021 World Baseball Classic. It’s often hard for the U.S. to convince players to join their team, but if key players were in a November World Series, that would make it even harder.
Qualifying games for the WBC were to be held this weekend in Tucson, Arizona, and those games were postponed, too.
I’m sure there would be some novel ideas for altering the schedule. In 1981, after a nearly two-month strike, teams had a chance to qualify for an enlarged postseason in August and September.
In 1981, the Orioles finished with the second-best record in the East, 59-46, but because they were second to the Yankees in the first half of the season and fourth to Milwaukee in the second half, they watched as New York and the Brewers made the playoffs.
There’s also been talk of not having an All-Star Game this year and using that week to make up lost regular season games.
What happens to spring training? If the delay is a month, perhaps two weeks of training is necessary. Even if players work out during the shutdown, it’s not competition.
While teams could reconvene in their Florida or Arizona spring training sites, a mid-April return could mean that the Orioles and other teams train in their home ballparks.
There are excellent facilities in Sarasota, but the home ballparks could work well, too.
There’s never been a “split” spring training before, and it might not be economically feasible.
Much of the allure of spring training is to fans, who are encouraged to get out of the winter cold and enjoy a few days or a week in Florida. But by mid-April, the weather in the Northeast isn’t as bad, and fans won’t be planning last-minute trips to catch games at a time they weren’t expecting to.
There are many relocated Orioles fans who live in Florida, but not enough. Games would likely be played in front of tiny crowds. Many fans who came to Sarasota late last week to see games were disappointed and couldn’t take more time off work for another trip.
In 1981, when the strike was settled, teams worked out at home and the Orioles played the Phillies in a home-and-home series before play resumed on August 10, which was the major league debut of Cal Ripken Jr.
The Phillies, Nationals, Mets, Yankees and Pirates are all within 300 miles, and could play each other.
What do the Orioles need to do? The Orioles have 54 players on their spring training roster, 28 above the roster limit. However, it’s possible that MLB will allow larger rosters at the start of the season in case the second spring training is truncated.
Teams aren’t prohibited from removing players from their roster during the pause. On Saturday, the Nationals dropped 13 players, and the Orioles could do the same.
If the season had started on time, three players — Trey Mancini, pitcher Evan Phillips and outfielder DJ Stewart — would have been on the injured list.
Mancini, who tweeted a video update on Saturday, had a malignant tumor removed from his colon on Thursday. He return date is uncertain.
Phillips, who has a sore elbow, isn’t expected to pitch for some time. Stewart, who was nearing a return to action after rehabbing his surgically repaired right ankle, has additional time to get ready.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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