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What might the 2020 MLB season look like?

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Adaptive plans, new beginnings, and the future

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season did not begin last week as originally planned. Opening Day would have been Thursday — ideally with the A’s defeating the Twins at the Coliseum — but like most other aspects of society, it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s impossible to know when, or even if, the baseball campaign will get started, as we wait to see what the future holds during this unprecedented episode of history.

However, amid the darkness and uncertainty of the moment, I’m pleased to inform you that there’s one thing I’m absolutely sure of regarding baseball in 2020: I will still be writing about it for Athletics Nation.

I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a new staff position at SB Nation with the official title of “Assistant Producer, California Fan Communities.”

In general, you can expect that I’ll remain as the primary voice of our Oakland A’s coverage. You might also see me pop up on other sites now and then, and you may see someone new chip in here occasionally, but for the most part AN is staying in the same loving, local hands that have nurtured it for years. Jim Bagg has been designated for assignment.

While it feels like infinitesimally small consolation during this global panic, I couldn’t be happier to stay with AN. As a lifelong A’s fan, born and raised in the East Bay and now living within a mile of the hospital where I was born in Walnut Creek, writing about my favorite team is a dream career. I got my start here in 2012 hosting Game Threads (here’s my first thread and recap, featuring starter Tommy Milone!), and in 2014 I took over as the Site Manager, a role I’ve filled for the past six seasons.

During this near-decade with AN I’ve penned thousands of articles; engaged in countless debates with the rest of the community in the comments sections; driven to Arizona and back with fellow writer Jeremy Koo to cover spring training; received hate mail from Royals fans in response to a scathing criticism of Kelvin Herrera; advocated so hard for one A’s sleeper prospect that his family personally thanked me for helping him reach the majors; spent two seasons as a part-time credentialed beat writer for the S.F. Examiner; interviewed a minor league “bat dog;” and so much more. I’m thrilled to continue this journey alongside all of you, and to keep doing a job I love for a team I adore.

Of course, that brings us back to the larger question: What might that journey entail in 2020? All we know for now is that the season definitely won’t begin before mid-May, with June being a more likely best-case scenario, and it probably won’t feature the full 162 games. MLB has committed itself to public health first and foremost, announcing that they’ll wait until medical experts give the go-ahead, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN. There might even be games played at empty, neutral-site stadiums, depending how long the ban on mass gatherings stays in place.

If and when the season does get going, Passan offers some early answers on what it might look like:

MLB is willing to amend roster rules to ensure a shortened Spring Training 2.0 — games could begin as soon as two weeks after players report back to camps to prepare for the season — doesn’t leave teams hurting for innings because starting pitchers aren’t stretched out. Players are willing to schedule more doubleheaders to squeeze in as many games as possible. Both were fine with the regular season stretching into October and the postseason into November. A neutral-site World Series in a warm-weather location? Sure. Expanded playoffs of a new, and potentially unique, variety? Yup.

To clarify that first sentence, active rosters might go up from 26 to 29 for the first month of action, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. If all goes well, Passan suggests that “a 130-game schedule is not out of the realm of possibility.” The All-Star Game is in jeopardy, as are the minor leagues as we know them, and the draft could be slashed to as few as five rounds.

No matter what happens, though, players will continue to accrue service time. Even if the season is fully swept away, anyone who earned a full year of service last summer will get credit for the same in 2020 — that means star shortstop and MVP candidate Marcus Semien will definitely be a free agent next winter, unless he’s extended before then. The players are also guaranteed at least a small fraction of their salaries, as they negotiated a “down payment” that they’ll get regardless of outcome. If the games do begin again, that down payment will serve as an advance on pro-rated portions of their normal contractual payouts. All 30 teams have also committed to compensating their other employees through at least April.

Beyond all that, the future is unclear. When reached for comment, my Magic 8-Ball responded, “Cannot predict now,” followed by, “Reply hazy, try again,” and then finally a blunt concession of, “Ask again later.” There might still be a season of some amount of games, which may or may not be played in front of fans, beginning and ending on undetermined dates. And that’s on top of the anxieties we have elsewhere in our lives, whether that’s worrying about our own health, or the well-being of our at-risk loved ones, or how to make rent after layoffs, or any number of other concerns.

Whatever comes next, though, we’ll go through it together as a community here on Athletics Nation.