As the coronavirus pandemic puts everything on hold, Major League Baseball and the Players Association continue to discuss the format of a possible season. We’ll keep you updated as things change, but let’s surmise that we will have some sort of a season, and what it might mean for the Orioles.
Question: When could the season begin?
Answer: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has banned gatherings of at least 50 people through early-to-mid May, and if MLB got an all-clear signal on say, May 10, the season could start in early June.
That seems to be the best-case scenario.
Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged that a 162-game season is impossible in an interview this week on ESPN, but the players and MLB want to play as many games as possible.
Q: How many games would make for a credible season?
A: In the strike-shortened season of 1994, which ended on August 11, teams played between 112 and 117 games. No postseason was played.
In 1981, when nearly two months were lost to a strike, teams played between 103 and 111 games. Division championships were awarded to teams that had the best record before and after the strike, and an extra round of playoffs was added.
It would seem that as long as at least 100 games were played, there could be a credible season.
Q: Will games lost be made up?
A: If the Orioles didn’t play until June, they’d have 102 games on their schedule. Some of the 60 games lost, perhaps against division opponents, could be made up on off days or as part of doubleheaders.
This is apparently being discussed between the players and MLB, as is extending the regular season, which was supposed to end September 27.
Q: Would there be an All-Star Game?
A: One of the ideas apparently being floated is to begin the season with the All-Star Game, currently scheduled for July 14 at Dodger Stadium.
Starting the season this way would eliminate the four-day break in July and create a built-in event for baseball.
In 1981, the strike wiped out the scheduled All-Star Game in Cleveland. It was rescheduled for the day before the season resumed, and it was a big hit.
Some veteran players eschew the All-Star Game because they’d prefer to have four days off instead. Pitchers who start games on the Sunday before the game are ineligible to pitch and replaced.
Beginning the season with the All-Star Game would have more big-name players participating and no excuse other than a severe injury.
Q: Would there be a second spring training in Florida?
A: There are two advantages to having a second spring training in Florida, and some disadvantages, too.
The squads are still large. Even though the Orioles and other teams have trimmed their roster, many cuts still must be made. The Orioles have 50 players on their spring training roster, and the number of players teams will carry this year is an unknown.
Holding spring training in Sarasota enables the Orioles and other teams to use multiple fields for drills, throwing programs and batting practice for large squads.
If there’s a multi-week schedule of exhibition games, there are nine teams — Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, New York Yankees, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Toronto — located within a 90-minute drive.
If spring training was held at teams’ ballparks, only the Nationals and Phillies are within 90 minutes.
But there could be a split second spring training, too, where initial workouts are held in Florida and games would be played in Florida and up north.
Florida games would likely be sparsely attended, and if there are workouts in ballparks, they could be opened to fans, generating needed interest.
Q: What about the draft?
A: According to reports, MLB and the players have an agreement to delay the June draft, which was to be held in Omaha at the site of the now-canceled College World Series, into July.
The draft would be cut from 40 rounds to five or 10. Bonuses would be deferred until 2022.
The Orioles are slated to have the second overall pick in the draft and four picks among the first 75.
Players undrafted could sign for reduced bonuses, return to college for their senior seasons if they’re juniors, or go to college if they’re high school players.
The international signing period, which was set to begin on July 2, could be moved back to January 2021.
Q: Could a full postseason be played?
A: Sure, but there would probably be some gimmicks. The first three-round playoffs were in 1981, and a shortened season could mean more postseason rounds.
If the regular season is extended into October, that would mean the postseason could reach well into November, and the possibility of playing them in domes or warm sites.
That could harm attendance because fans who have lost wages or time wouldn’t be able to travel to watch their teams play on short notice.
Q: Would there still be free agency?
A: Yes, as part of the agreement, players will receive a full year of service time even if there’s no season.
According to The Athletic, salaries will be prorated, but players will receive a $170,000 advance spread over two months. If there’s no season, the $170,000 would be their full 2020 earnings.
Because of the shortened season and a likely drop in attendance, the free-agent market might not be robust for Trevor Bauer, Mookie Betts, Marcus Stroman and Masahiro Tanaka, who are the possible big names in an otherwise lackluster class.
Q: The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December 2021. Could there be ramifications?
A: After two unexciting offseasons, the best of last year’s free agents were snapped up quickly in a robust market. Players who had complained about the previous two years wanted to make sure that this year wasn’t an aberration.
With this shortened season, it could make for another unexciting offseason, but because the players and MLB seemed to have amicable negotiations, fans should feel more confident that a new CBA can be agreed upon next year with a minimum of rancor.
Q: What about the World Baseball Classic?
A: The WBC qualifying rounds, scheduled for earlier this month in Tucson, Arizona, were scrubbed, and since the Olympics have been put off until sometime in 2021, it’s possible the WBC could move from March 2021 to 2022.