Earlier today, we got the announcement from Major League Baseball that the rest of Spring Training is cancelled and Opening Day will be delayed by at least two weeks. MLB is the most recent sports league to shut down or suspend their respective seasons to counter the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On the surface level, that means no more games for the foreseeable future for the teams, players, media, and fans alike. However there are more far-reaching consequences to a layoff than just the lack of entertainment.
The first major consequence comes down to how teams will make the adjustment towards a layoff between baseball games. While players can throw or take BP, in-game reps are a necessity to get ready for the season. When MLB feels comfortable to resume play, there will need to be a ramp up time before regular season games can start. The longer the layoff, the longer the ramp-up needs to be so pitchers can once again stretch out to be able to go 100+ pitches into starts. That same preparation time will also be necessary for position players to work on their defense and get in-game reps against pitchers to get an idea of how they’ll be pitched to.
The delay to the start of the season helps players who might not have been ready to go on March 26th such as Mike Leake and Kevin Ginkel. In addition, players on the bubble such as Jon Duplantier, Trayce Thompson, Josh Rojas, Ildemaro Vargas, and Jon Jay could also be negatively affected as they’re the guys getting the most opportunities in these Spring games to crack the roster. Rojas and Duplantier can be sent to the minors via optional assignment, but the other three players do not have that luxury. Thompson, Jay, and Vargas have a decent shot of cracking the roster although it’s unlikely all three end up on the roster. So whoever makes the roster may depend on how they complement the other 25 players on the roster.
The second issue is the length of the remaining season. The last time an MLB regular season lasted fewer than 162 games was in 1995, when baseball was coming out of the players strike that ended the previous season. That year they played 144 games, which certainly would not be out of the realm of possibility if the start of the 2020 MLB season is delayed past April. I don’t think the players want the season extending deep into November as it will affect their off-season time and routines between each season. The longer this layoff goes, the shorter I anticipate the 2020 season will be.
One possibility that’s been discussed is teams playing games without fans in the stands. Such games would still have a TV broadcast, given the amount of revenue that TV contracts have generated for MLB teams. I’m not sure if it will be closed to media, although I imagine post-game interviews will be in more of a press conference and the locker room being closed to non-team personnel. Four of the fifteen teams set to open up the season are still searching for a solution to host their Opening Day games due to restrictions on gatherings set by the governor’s office in Washington, California, and New York. That is a problem not only for the teams playing those games, but also the fans who bought tickets for that game. I imagine fans that purchased tickets for those games will either be refunded or given tickets to a later game.
If games are being put on hold in the majors, I imagine the same effect also portends to the Olympic qualifier games and Minor League games. The Minor League season is set to start on April 9th, which is roughly two weeks after the MLB season was supposed to start. I’m not sure what the process will be for teams assembling the rosters for their full season affiliates, but I imagine they have a pretty good idea outside of maybe 5-10 players who still have a nonzero chance of breaking with the MLB club. I’m not sure if teams are able to start the Minor Leagues on time with the delay to the MLB season, that will be an extra story to monitor.
I’m not sure how Major League Baseball deals with the fallout of the COVID-19 break out long term. Currently, they’ve announced that Spring Training is suspended and that Opening Day will be delayed at least two weeks. I’m not sure if the games will resume and if there will be time for players to prepare for the season. For now we’ll just have to wait for more news for when baseball will resume in full.