Baseball Hunkers Down

Yesterday, Major League Baseball delayed the start of the regular season. The decision, in retrospect, was an easy one: every major sport is now shut down. It’s a public safety concern in addition to a player safety issue, and the combination made it impossible to wait. Opening Day has been postponed by at least two weeks, and May might be a more realistic start date.

In their understandable haste to delay the season, MLB left some loose ends. Today, they’ve started to address those. Yesterday, players were simply waiting at team facilities, unsure of next steps. Some spring training games were played even after the announcement that the season would be delayed indefinitely. Teams had no games, but there was no official announcement of what their players would do.

Today, the league eliminated the confusion. Spring training facilities league-wide will be shuttered by mutual agreement of the commissioner and the player’s union:

Shuttered means exactly what you think it does. No one is going to be playing baseball at spring training facilities in the near future. All on-field training is shut down — no intra-squad games, no outfield practice, no simulated games. Pitchers can throw off of mounds, and hitters can still work in indoor cages, but with no games, the baseball season won’t restart seamlessly.

A second spring training looks like the most likely option at this point. It could be short — 10 days or so — but it seems unavoidable that players will need another round of warmups before the season can start. That tracks with what we’ve heard about a further delay — if play isn’t going to start up again until May or potentially later, a second spring training would be necessary in either case, so this seems like a wise decision.

With players and the league no longer ramping up for the season, other dominos fell as well. The league recommended that teams send home players who aren’t on 40-man rosters. Players on the roster can leave as well if they’d prefer. Players on the 40-man will be eligible for travel reimbursement:

If those players decide to stay, as the Yankees already have, teams have them covered. Daily allowances will continue, and teams will help remaining players secure lodging:

The vast majority of minor leaguers will likely be asked to leave camp, but will find themselves in a difficult situation, as they won’t be reimbursed for travel at a time when traveling is a fraught proposition. With minor leaguers only receiving pay during the season, the economic pressures are mounting for baseball’s working class.

In theory, that pressure could soon extend to major leaguers. The uniform player contract, the basis of every major league contract, has special provisions for a national state of emergency, which was declared today:

At this stage, it looks unlikely that the commissioner’s office is considering so drastic a step. NBA contracts have a similar clause, and teams in that league are continuing to pay players as normal. There have been no rumblings yet of baseball breaking ranks. In fact, the Tigers committed to paying stadium employees for at least the month of April regardless of whether games have played.

Finally, sources close to the league say that at the moment, the plan is to extend the regular season rather than reduce the number of games played:

That’s an acceptable solution assuming the league’s current timeline, which only calls for two missed weeks of baseball. The last game of the World Series was played on October 30 this year; by cutting seven off days and moving the postseason back a week, the league could produce a 162-game schedule and still end the playoffs by around November 5, in line with when the playoffs ended earlier this century.

Of course, nothing else about the current plan indicates much confidence in that two week delay. Instead, we’ll likely see a combination of a shorter season and a later start to the playoffs. If games start on May 1 and end on October 4, that leaves 156 days for games. The regular schedule would call for 162 games in 185 days; a 140 or 142-game schedule in 156 days would keep player rest somewhat constant while maximizing the number of games played.

And of course, all of this is extremely prone to change. The spread of COVID-19 has been anything but predictable; baseball’s response thus far has been similarly unsettled. We won’t know more for weeks, but as of now, it looks like the league is preparing for at least a month without baseball.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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2 years ago

This is really developing rapidly. Here in Alabama we have one confirmed case in Montgomery — about 4 hours south of me here in Huntsville. Schools are scheduled to close statewide beginning this coming Wednesday, and all rec sports have been cancelled.

The grocery store situation is unbelievable. No paper products, no cleaning supplies. I’ve been debating on whether I should fill up vehicles and jugs with gas, or if I should go ahead and withdrawal some cash. It’s getting crazy here, and we’re one of the last states to report an infection.

I’m wondering how this is all going to work, considering I have 2 kids who will have no where to go for at least the next 14-17 days. Are our employers just going to let us all off work??

2 years ago
Reply to  CL1NT

Nobody knows how to handle it. The last pandemic was 1957-58, and it was more mild.

The Duke
2 years ago
Reply to  CL1NT

People run out of steam panic buying. My wife has laid in an unbelievable amount of stuff. So we won’t be at the stores except for perishables. I suspect the panic buying will die down in a week or so.

I would make sure you keep all your medicines on hand. I paid out of my pocket for another 3 months over and above what I had.

I have found if you get to the store at 7 am when it opens it’s pretty quiet

2 years ago
Reply to  The Duke

I’m beginning to worry about medicine. I have a monthly prescription that I’m supposed to be getting refilled Tuesday. A bit anxious, considering I have to take it and can’t go a day without it (without feeling horrible).

Last night my state went from having just one infected person to 5, including one living in my county.

The Duke
2 years ago
Reply to  CL1NT

If you can afford it, order an extra supply when you are at pharmacist ( they may need to get your doctor to agree ). Mine wasn’t covered by insurance but the CVs phaarmacist found a way to chefs me 60 bucks for something that was going to cost 250.

Remember you are only limited on how much to buy by insurance – if you can afford it buy more