Report: MLB focusing on plan that could start 2020 season in Arizona as early as May


Major League Baseball and its player union are increasingly focused on a plan that could allow the 2020 season to begin as early as May, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The plan reportedly has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate through the coronavirus pandemic.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

The crux of the plan is that all 30 teams would play games at empty stadiums in the Phoenix metropolitan area, which include the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and 10 spring training facilities. Such a set-up is preferable to Florida’s spring training facilities, which are spread across the central and southern part of the state.

Players, coaches and other essential staff would be isolated at local hotels and only move between the hotels and stadiums. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health reportedly support a plan of strict isolation.

The games would obviously be played with no spectators. Players would reportedly be isolated from their own families at the beginning of the season, and possibly the entire season.

If a deal is agreed on, teams would reportedly undergo a 2-3 week training camp in Arizona as protocols are tested. It’s unclear if similar attempts would be made to start the minor league season as well.

Essentially, MLB is going to assemble its players in Arizona if the coronavirus situation vastly improves in the next month. That is a gargantuan if, given the country’s current outlook of testing, treatment and prevention.

The main entrance in front of Chase Field is devoid of activity Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Phoenix.. The Arizona Diamondbacks would have hosted the Atlanta Braves in their season-opening baseball game Thursday, but the start of the MLB regular season is indefinitely on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, could soon become the center of the baseball universe. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

MLB needs vastly improved coronavirus testing to make this work — and it still might not work

While a May Opening Day is the best-case scenario, ESPN reports some officials see a return in June — which the NBA and English Premier League are hoping for — as more realistic. MLB probably isn’t going to buy out a private island like the UFC.

The biggest issue is reportedly how long it will take for coronavirus testing to become widespread and effective enough that MLB’s precautions wouldn’t be at the cost of the general public health. Such a dynamic has been a hot-button issue since it was reported the Utah Jazz used 60 percent of the state of Oklahoma’s daily testing capacity in the aftermath of Rudy Gobert’s positive test.

The Premier League also considered the problem of what would happen if a player gets seriously injured at a time when hospitals are still slammed by COVID-19. MLB would face a similar question.

The plan has reportedly been discussed for weeks by federal health officials and baseball officials, and apparently has risen to the top as the least-bad possibility.

It would still take just one positive test to throw the entire system into chaos, and keeping hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people healthy and isolated for the span of several months will be easier said than done.

On the players’ side, you would imagine the idea of as many as four months away from their families could make the idea a non-starter for several. The players want games to return as well, but this would clearly carry a massive mental cost that some will be unwilling to pay.

MLB is willing to swallow the millions in gameday revenue that clubs would lose in this plan, because something (i.e. television revenue) is better than nothing, and nothing is what they would likely get if the league waited until it’s safe for fans to attend games again. The possibility of increasing the sport’s national broadcasts at a time when sports networks are starving for live content makes for a fine tradeoff.

Even more changes could be seen on the field, as Passan reports that several on-field changes could possibly be made in the face of COVID-19.

MLB games could look very different under new coronavirus protocols

Among the reported possibilities discussed are:

• using an electronic strike zone to allow home-plate umpires to maintain distance from the catcher and batter

• no mound visits

• seven-inning doubleheaders to maximize games played

• players regularly using on-field microphones, to jazz up broadcasts

• teams sitting in empty stands six feet apart instead of the dugout

• expanded rosters

Not all of those are probably going to happen, but it’s clear MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wasn’t kidding when he said last week he is willing to get creative to play as many games as possible.

What you are seeing here is the absolute desperation of MLB — as well as pretty much every other sports league — to start playing games and events as soon as possible.

No plan is going to completely eliminate the risk of furthering the coronavirus outbreak, but when billions of dollars are at stake, you can expect MLB to push for everything it can get. Even if it means asking players to leave their families for four months and effectively run a private coronavirus testing clinic.

People are skeptical of MLB’s coronavirus plan

One MLB player, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson, has already signaled he doesn’t think players will give up access to their families for possibly four months just to play baseball, an understandable position.

Many reporters were also quick to denounce the plan as a pipe dream.

MLB responds to Arizona plan report

MLB released a statement on Tuesday morning in direct response to Passan’s report about MLB’s Arizona plan.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on tat option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

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