No one knows when the baseball season will begin. Major League Baseball and the Players Association have painstakingly discussed potential scenarios for the 2020 season that has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, MLB announced it would pay minor leaguers $400 a week through May 31, or until the minor league baseball season begins.
That was a hopeful sign because in recent years, MLB has come under criticism for its payment and treatment of its minor leaguers.
But, if we don’t know when the major league season will begin, an under what conditions, what about the minor league seasons?
The minor leagues weren’t going to begin until April 9, and most end on September 7.
MLB and the players have shown a willingness to extend the season, perhaps into November and play postseason games in neutral sites, at domes or in warm-weather climates.
The minor leagues exist to provide players for the major leagues. Although they provide inexpensive entertainment in many areas far from big league parks, that’s secondary.
For the Orioles, this season was shaping up to be an interesting one. It was supposed to be the second full season of the organizational rebuild.
General manager Mike Elias had a full season to make personnel changes, and he was very active.
If there’s some sort of a season, it will be interesting to see if Austin Hays can play center field regularly, and if some of the young relievers can improve.
Later in the season, the Orioles had hoped to bring some of their better prospects — left-handers Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann, right-hander Dean Kremer and first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle to the big leagues.
It was going to be an important season for outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who along with Zimmermann, remain on the 50-man spring training roster.
Diaz, who was acquired in the Manny Machado deal, hasn’t played above Double-A and he was set to begin at Norfolk.
Prospects such as pitchers DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez were going to begin at Bowie and High-A Frederick.
Rodriguez was likely to be joined by last year’s overall top draft choice, catcher Adley Rutschman.
Now, no one knows.
No one knows what kind of a schedule the minor leaguers will have. There might not be the rush to make up games with doubleheaders and the erasure of off days that a new major league schedule may contain.
The Orioles might decide to be more conservative with their placement of top prospects.
If the major league season doesn’t begin until June 1, or later, is a three-month minor league schedule a good idea?
In their contentious negotiations with Minor League Baseball, MLB has sought to end short-season leagues. Those generally begin in mid-June, just after the major league draft, and run until Labor Day.
Now, the Orioles’ top affiliates — Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick and Delmarva — could join Aberdeen in playing a highly truncated schedule.
It will be interesting to see if the minor league schedule is extended past Labor Day. Playoffs, which are vital to MLB’s economic success, aren’t moneymakers in the minors. They’re a reward for having the best regular season records, and they don’t draw large crowds.
When the Orioles qualified for the postseason, they ran a camp for top minor leaguers in Sarasota to keep them ready in case they were needed.
That could happen again for all teams, if the regular season extends into October.
Hanging over the MILB season were the negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with MLB, which sought to eliminate those short-season leagues and other teams they felt played in substandard facilities.
Because of the pandemic, those talks are secondary to dealing with the health crisis.
Last week, MLB and the players reached agreement for a smaller draft. The draft had been scheduled for June 10-12 in Omaha, Nebraska to coincide with the now-canceled College World Series.
The draft could move into July. Instead of the customary 40 rounds, it might have as few as five or 10.
A five-round draft would save money and teams can still sign undrafted players for reduced amounts. Signing bonuses of those drafted will be deferred until 2022.
However, the Orioles’ most valuable pitcher, in 2019, John Means, was drafted in the 11th round. Their best position player, Trey Mancini, was drafted in the eighth round.
It would be a shame to lose players with that potential in a small draft.
The Orioles draft second, and if there’s a shorter minor league season and a later draft, professional debuts of those selected might be delayed until 2021.
This week, the NCAA approved an extra year of eligibility for spring sport athletes.
By next year, a new CBA might eliminate some minor league teams, and the 2021 draft could be loaded with those who choose to play an extra year.
As fans wait, the machinations behind the scenes in both the major and minor leagues will be full of intrigue.