By Bob Nightengale |
Maybe it’s a dream scenario.
Maybe it’s premature to get excited.
Then again, maybe it just might work.
Major League Baseball officials have become cautiously optimistic this week that the season will start in late June, and no later than July 2, playing at least 100 regular-season games, according to three executives with knowledge of the talks. They requested anonymity because the plan is still under consideration.
And not only would baseball be played, but it would be played in their own major-league ballparks, albeit with no fans.
MLB is considering a three-division, 10-team plan in which teams play only within their division – a concept gaining support among owners and executives. It would abolish the traditional American and National Leagues, and realign the divisions based on geography.
The plan, pending approval of medical experts and providing that COVID-19 testing is available to the public, would eliminate the need for players to be in isolation and allow them to still play at their home ballparks while severely reducing travel.
The divisions would keep many of the natural rivals together, while playing one another before an expanded playoff format.
Here’s a look at the possible realignment structure:
- New York Yankees and Mets, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins
- Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners
- Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers
It’s too early to expound on the details, the officials cautioned, with new ideas floated each week.
It’s also not known whether teams would have to open the season in Arizona, Florida and Texas for several weeks before everyone could return to their home stadiums. Yet, they could squeeze in 100 to 110 games, and perhaps even have several thousand fans in attendance before or during the playoffs.
“It’s all coming together,’’ one of the officials said. “I’m very optimistic.”
One of the additional benefits to playing in major-league cities is it would alleviate a possible split among players who are opposed to playing the entire season in Arizona/Florida/Texas. Several high-profile players, including the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw expressed strong resistance to playing the season away from their families.
MLB and union officials have yet to engage in formal discussions about the financial ramifications of playing without fans, with three owners telling USA TODAY Sports three weeks ago that they would refuse to play unless the players were willing to take a pay cut. Four other team officials insist they would require financial relief from the players.
Yet, there is now optimism among executives that they could settle their differences in negotiations on a sliding scale depending on the loss of revenue from gate receipts, parking and concessions. Teams also would have to revise their revenue-sharing plan.
The most encouraging signs, the officials said, is that testing is becoming more available, more states are re-opening, and more politicians such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot saying teams could play in their own ballparks this summer.
MLB teams likely will still return to their own spring-training facilities in Arizona and Florida when they resume workouts. Players are expected to be given a week to return to spring training sites, and have 18 to 21 days before the start of the season.
Veteran agent Scott Boras proposed that players report to spring training in May, beginning with the pitchers and catchers. Players would be isolated from the population for three to four weeks, grouping them according to whether they ever tested positive with no symptoms, were hospitalized, have recovered with antibodies or tested negative.
“We have strong young athletes,’’ Boras said, “and we can ready them. They want to create a return to normalcy and certainly our national pastime is a sign of that.’’
MLB officials are hoping it won’t be necessary to quarantine players, and normalcy will prevail once the regular season commences, but the schedule and playoff format promises to be dramatically different.
“This is going to be a season,’’ one of the executives said, “like we’ve never seen.
“But that’s fine. It’s at least a season.’’