Baseball’s acrimonious labor stand-off between owners and players appears to be over, and while the two sides never came to an agreement, owners can still implement a schedule, which they are expected to do.
9:10 p.m. update: Players agree to proposed safety protocol measures, play ball! A schedule is set to be released in the next few days.
Owners will schedule a 60-game season, to begin July 24 and run until September 27. Teams will begin spring training by July 1, to be held at their home ballpark rather than spring training facilities. Players will receive their full pro-rata salary, so a 60-game season will mean players receive about 37 percent of what their full salary would have been.
Though the 162-game baseball season is typically considered a marathon, this season will be a sprint. The 60-game season will be the shortest season in American League history, and the National League hasn’t seen such a short season since 1878. With a truncated spring training, unique playing conditions with no fans, and such a short season, we could see some truly surprising teams make the playoffs this season.
As for the playoffs, there will not be expanded playoffs this year, after owners and players were unable to come to agreement. The usual playoff arrangement will take place with three division winners and two Wild Cards advancing to the post-season, with a one-game playoff between the Wild Card teams.
However there will be some changes to the game this year, in the name of safety. MLB seeks to avoid long games where many pitchers are used, so in extra inning ballgames, each inning after the ninth will begin with a runner at second base. Minor league teams used this this rule for last season, but it is expected to be just a temporary rule in MLB this year, and only for the regular season.
The designated hitter rule is also likely coming to the National League for the first time, as a temporary measure for just 2020, although many expect it could be here to stay. It will be used this year as part of the safety protocols to keep pitchers from getting hurt, but owners have pushed for the rule to be implemented permanently for years.
Rosters will expanded to 30 players initially until the 15th day of the season, where it goes to 28 players, then down to 26 after the 28th day. There will be no expanded rosters in September. The Injured List, which was scheduled to change to a 15-day list, will go back to a 10-day list this year. There will be a taxi-squad of players to bring up if needed, since there will likely not be a minor league season. There have been reports MLB teams have asked taxi squads to practice and play intra-squad games at facilities near their home ballpark, which would make T-Bones Stadium in Kansas City, Kansas a logical choice for the Royals.
As for the schedule, teams will be limited in travel over concerns over the spread of coronavirus, so teams are expected to play only clubs in their own division, and the corresponding geographic division in the other league. So for Royals fans, you can expect them to play only the White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Twins, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates. The trade deadline will also be pushed back to August 30.
It is not inconceivable that a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend games. States have begun loosening gathering restrictions with California, Illinois, and Texas all allowing fans to attend sporting events in limited capacities in certain phases of reopening plans. However that could change if cases continue to spike as they have in recent days.
Concerns about the coronavirus, of course, hang over the entire season. There will be social distancing in clubhouses and players sitting in the stands rather than the dugout, testing multiple times a week for players, and temperatures taken on a daily basis. Any player can opt out, but only players that are high risk or have a high-risk family member can still be paid while opting out.
The 2020 season will be a year unlike any other, with many changes that will may take some time getting used to. But baseball is likely to come back, at least for now.