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5 takeaways as MLB’s potential return takes shape

This article was reposted from Boston Herald for the interest of our audience, click here to read the article on their website.  

Major League Baseball is on the brink of setting a date for a second spring training, and the parameters around the game’s possible return are starting to take shape.

Detailed reporting from ESPN, The Athletic and USA Today, along with individual reporting at the Herald, indicate there is hope for an MLB season to come.

The key word: flexibility.

Safety will be paramount, but in order to keep everyone safe, the players and owners must stay flexible, allowing for games to be postponed or canceled if there are localized coronavirus outbreaks, stadiums to close temporarily and games to be moved to other locations.

Nothing is set in stone yet, and it’s likely it won’t ever be. All plans are to be drawn in pencil. Here’s what it’s starting to look like:

1. When will baseball return? 

July 1 looks like the target date to start meaningful games again, which would put a three-week spring training starting around June 10. That leaves about a month for position players to start ramping up their activity, swinging a bat and getting their bodies back in shape. And pitchers, who have been typically asked to throw four or five times a week (getting off a mound twice a week), will need to start throwing with more intensity. Starters might need to get on a five-day build-up plan.

Some spring training facilities, including JetBlue Park in Fort Myers have already reopened, and local players are being allowed in to get medical treatment and work out.

2. How is MLB going to pull this off?

It’s looking more likely that teams will use their home stadiums, for both the regular season and spring training. And while fans are returning for baseball games in Taiwan, games in South Korea, where the coronavirus has been much better contained than here in the United States, are still being played without fans, which is the expectation here, too.

Concerns have been raised over some players refusing to return in a scenario that would require them to stay away from their families, which is looking like a non-starter, hence why “the Arizona bubble plan” is just about dead and home stadiums would be much more appealing.

3. What happens if someone tests positive?

If there are localized outbreaks in individual cities, which continue to happen across the country, teams could be forced to postpone games, or travel with an essential crew to another stadium to play games until it’s safe to return.

But it seems almost inevitable that a player or staff member will test positive at some point. In Korea, the KBO has a rule that’ll stop play for three weeks if a player tests positive. Players there are being regularly tested and have their temperatures taken twice before games start.

MLB will surely need to devise a detailed plan for if/when a player does test positive, and testing will need to be more readily available to the public before MLB would feel comfortable hoarding thousands of tests to keep their players safe.

4. What will rosters look like?

The season looks like it’ll be shortened. There’s almost no way to start in July and play 162 games, even with frequent seven-inning double-headers. And with experts projecting a second wave of the virus outbreak in the winter, there’s motivation to get a season completed before then.

July 1 would give plenty of time to play an 81-game schedule and finish in November. Of course, there could be adjustments needed on the fly.

Will some teams play more difficult, unbalanced schedules? Probably. But it’s better than no baseball.

Rosters are expected to be around 30 players, and with every win essentially counting as two in the standings, managers could act more aggressively to win today without worrying about tomorrow.

Pitchers are likely to throw fewer innings, which means more depth would be needed. And given the long layoff, position players might need more rest. Without any minor league games, a 50- or 60-man squad should be locally available and continue to train at the home parks or close by.

5. Who gets paid?

While safety is the No. 1 concern, money is always close behind.

Players and owners already agreed to take a prorated salary this season, but that doesn’t look like it’ll work for owners, who will lose roughly half their revenue from gate receipts, and countless other streams of incomes via lost advertising, memorabilia sales, etc.

There’s talk of a revenue-sharing system, but players will be scared that it would continue post-pandemic and lead directly to a salary cap, which they’ve been fighting for decades.

Who’s more motivated to get games going? Probably the players, given only $170 million of total salaries have been committed to being paid at this point, and the owners could stand to lose money should games return and players continue to make a prorated portion of their previous salaries.

Umpires have already agreed to take a 30% pay cut.

With so much money at stake for all parties, there is hope of the game being played again in 2020.

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