Opening Day for the minor leaguers on Earth 2. A.J. Alexy, coming off last year’s lat injury, delivers the season’s first pitch at 7pm EDT for high-A Down East against visiting Fredericksburg. Five minutes later, Hickory CF Kellen Strahm will tee off against a Seattle prospect at West Virginia. In another thirty minutes, Nashville’s Kolby Allard will fool an I-Cub with an offspeed first pitch, and at 7pm CDT, Frisco CF Leody Taveras will take a hack off a Tulsa hurler.
Here on Earth 1, we have the first four of many, many canceled games.
You’ve probably read about discussion between MLB and the Players Association to open the season as soon as May. All thirty teams would play in one location, likely Arizona.
I don’t consider myself an optimist or pessimist. In any situation, I try to estimate the odds. In this situation, I don’t like the odds. Plenty of people exercising reasonable caution have found themselves sick, or worse. Reactivating open society will be just as much of a challenge as shutting it down. We’re probably going to endure intermittent periods of semi-openness and closure until a vaccine is widely disseminated.
This plan would seem to require players, a taxi squad of replacement players for the injured, coaches, umpires, grounds crew, other stadium personnel, broadcast media and crew, security, hotel/housing staff, and a slew of others living in isolation early on and then (if fortunate) living under “ordinary” social-distancing conditions thereafter. That’s a lot of people, an awful lot of opportunities for failure. Are players forbidden from face-to-face contact with their partners and children during this time? Does a positive test force another shut down? If not one test, what about half a dozen?
Arizona’s Chase Field can handle two or three games a day. The Phoenix area hosts 15 teams in the spring but has only ten primary stadiums, since several facilities are shared. So, a few more would be needed, or some games would have to be played on the back fields. That would be something. The playing surfaces are superbly maintained, but the rest is spartan. Chain-link fencing, no bullpens, rudimentary dugouts, adequate lighting at best. Outside of the enclosed Chase, games couldn’t begin before 7pm, and even then, early inning temperatures will occasionally exceed 110 degrees. Arizona’s lack of Daylight Savings Time means every game would be a late-night affair for viewers in the Central and Eastern zones.
As for the minors, I can’t justify playing games at stadiums across the country until fans are permitted. Without paying customers, the games would just create additional operating expenses for minor league teams already struggling with negligible revenue. Maybe a solution exists that entails limited numbers of fans sitting distant from one another. It could be a welcome respite for the lucky few. It could also be eerie and disheartening. I’m not sure.
Sorry to be so glum. I am working on a feature that doesn’t involve the year 2020 at all, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I’m also recording another podcast shortly with pals Ted Price, Sean Bass and Michael Tepid that should be available later today.
Per Baseball America, the powers that be have not reached a decision on service time and Rule 5 status should the minor league season be canceled. Prospects eligible for the R5 draft this December under ordinary conditions unless protected include pitchers A.J. Alexy, John King, Cole Ragans, Yerry Rodriguez, and Alex Speas, and catchers Sam Huff and David Garcia.
For the time being, teams can’t reassign players to different levels, only release them. Several teams including the Rangers have retained nearly all of their minor leaguers since spring training was halted, while others, most notably the Cubs and Athletics, have released upwards of twenty players.
Per local reports, three Rangers minor leaguers have shown symptoms of COVID-19, although none has been tested. All are feeling better.
Texas released 22-year-old pitcher Edgar Arrendondo, originally signed out of Mexico in 2013. Arredondo reached AA in 2018 and spent all of last year in Frisco’s rotation, posting a 4.17 ERA with good control and a 17% strikeout rate.
My 2020 Major League Baseball Schedule
About three weeks ago I concocted a schedule incorporating elements of most soccer leagues (single division, round-robin schedule), winter ball (a playoff round-robin between the regular season and championship series), and the NIT (a consolation tournament). It’s just a lark, but the dates make sense (under the iffy assumption that games around the country will be feasible).
Regular Season (18 Jun - 27 Sep):
Every team plays one three-game series against every other team. (29 opponents x 3 games = 87)
6 games a week, Mondays off.
An uneven number of series (29), so 2019’s top 15 teams play 15 series at home, 14 on road.
Top 4 teams advance to Championship Round Robin.
Teams 5-12 advance to a Play-In series with opportunity to advance to the Championship Round Robin.
Teams 13-30 (and eventual losers of Play-In) relegated to Consolation Tournament.
Play-In Round (29 Sep – 1 Oct):
Teams 5-12 play a best-of-three hosted by higher seed.
5 vs 12, 6 vs 11, 7 vs 10, 8 vs 9.
Winners advance to Championship Round Robin.
Losers relegated to Consolation Tournament.
Consolation Tournament (29 Sep – 28 Oct at latest):
Double elimination, each series a best-of-3 hosted by higher seed.
Bottom 12 seeds start while Play-In Round is going on.
Top 10 teams (including Play-In losers) get a bye.
New series begins every 3 days.
Championship Round Robin (2 Oct – 24 Oct):
8-team round robin, 3 game series (7 x 3 = 21).
6 games a week, Mondays off.
Uneven number of series, so the top 4 seeds play 4 series at home, 3 on the road.
Top 2 teams advance to World Series.
World Series (26 Oct – 3 Nov):
Standard format, first to four wins.
Fewest possible games played by any team: 91
Most possible games played by World Series participant: 118
Most possible games played by Consolation participant: 120 (extremely unlikely)