The 2020 MLB season is finally on the way.
Although the owners and players never reached a deal on financial terms, the league on Monday exercised its right to impose a season at full prorated salaries. All that was left was to agree on health and safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that got done Tuesday, reports Karl Ravech of ESPN. “Game on,” said Ravech.
MLB released a statement with the official announcement.
The current plan is for the season to last 60 games, beginning either July 23 or 24. Players will report to training camp by July 1, and will undergo testing upon arrival. The schedule, which is still being finalized, will feature only regional opponents — that means the Oakland A’s will play against just the AL West (40 games) and NL West (20 games). The postseason will be the same as normal.
Due to the odd nature of the situation, there will be substantial changes to the normal routines. In addition to the significantly altered schedule, there are new wrinkles in everything from roster makeup to on-field rules to safety measures. Click here for a full FAQ from MLB’s official site.
Teams will start training camp with a pool of 60 players, which they must finalize by Sunday afternoon. The pool will include their 40-man roster plus another 20 non-roster players, and those are the only 60 who will be eligible to play this year. The freeze on transactions ends Friday morning, to allow for any final moves before the deadline.
When the season begins, active rosters will start with 30 players, then go down to 28 after two weeks (Day 15), then settle at the new-normal of 26 after four weeks (Day 29). There was going to be a new limit on how many pitchers a team could carry, but that won’t be in effect. Everyone not on the active roster is on the taxi squad, and to be activated they must be called up as usual. On road trips, teams can bring up to three taxi squad players as inactive backups, but the third must be a catcher.
The injured list was supposed to go up to 15 games for pitchers this year, but for now it will stay at 10 games for all players. Meanwhile, the 60-day IL goes down to 45 days. There will also be a new coronavirus IL with no specified number of days, for any player who tests positive, shows symptoms, or is exposed to someone who does. If he tests positive, then he can’t return until he tests negative twice.
One more possibility, via Jayson Stark of The Athletic: “MLB has been talking with Nashville about having 2 teams there of unsigned players, sources say. They would serve as an emergency pool and would make $400/week. MLB teams would have to pay a fee to Nashville to sign one of those players.”
There are two significant changes to the on-field rules, both of them brought on by safety concerns. They are each temporary, for 2020 only.
First is the universal DH, as the National League will use the designated hitter. With the weird year and abbreviated spring training, this is intended to reduce stress on pitchers and keep them as healthy as possible. Click here for an idea of which players the A’s NL West opponents might use in that new DH spot.
The other big change involves extra innings. Starting in the 10th, each extra frame will begin with a free runner on second base. The runner will be the last batter from the previous inning. If he scores, the run will count as unearned. The idea is to spur offense and avoid long games, with the safety goal of players spending as little time as possible on the field around each other. This rule, which has been tried in the minors in recent years, will apply only to the regular season and go away in the postseason.
In addition to those emergency measures, the new three-batter minimum will move forward as planned — pitchers must face at least three batters or finish the inning before they can be removed. However, the previously scheduled new restrictions on position players pitching will be put in hold.
A summary of the testing protocols from insider Mark Feinsand:
Players will undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival, then begin workouts if they test negative. Players, coaches and support staff will be tested for COVID-19 every other day during training camps, the regular season and postseason. Anybody testing positive will be quarantined. Two negative tests are reportedly required for a return. Players will also receive temperature/symptom checks at least twice per day, and antibody testing will be conducted approximately once per month.
For more details on testing, click here for Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic.
There will be no spitting and no chewing tobacco or seeds, though gum is allowed. Players also can’t have celebratory contact, like high-fives or hugs. Once a ball has been touched by multiple players it will be thrown out, and players will have to retrieve their own equipment in between innings even if they were on base.
In terms of social distancing, some idle players and personnel will not sit in the dugout but rather in the stands, at least six feet apart. Any non-players in the dugout will wear masks. Players on opposing teams are to avoid contact or fraternization outside of actual game action. When arguing with an umpire, players and managers must stay at least six feet away, or else face suspension.
In a Twitter thread, Joel Sherman of the New York Post opined the following:
I have talked to players about this already — the idea that players are going to have to do a lot of behavior policing among the group. I suspect unified teams with championship aspirations will make it a competition off the field to stay disciplined too. Because with all the rules in this operations guide, it still comes down to the individuals involved to limit risk, especially away from the park. I think a lot of the group joy of being on a team is going to be challenged. Pretty much every communal act is limited or prohibited.
If a player is deemed high-risk by team doctors, he may opt to sit out the season while still being paid and receiving service time. For technical purposes, he would go on the new, indefinite coronavirus IL (COVID-19 Related Injured List). Players may also opt out if they live with high-risk individuals, including a pregnant partner, though there are conflicting reports on whether their pay will be guaranteed.
The 2020 season will be far from normal, but at least it’s on the road to happening at all. Of course, the specter of the coronavirus hangs above all of these plans, and presumably the whole thing could be dashed if the pandemic continues to worsen. But for now, the green light is on.
Pitchers and catchers report in seven days.
Sources linked in this article include Ken Rosenthal, Evan Drellich, and Jayson Stark of The Athletic; MLB insiders Jon Heyman, Mark Feinsand, and Anthony Castrovince; Bob Nightengale of USA Today; Jeff Passan and Karl Ravech of ESPN; Chris Cotillo of MassLive; Pete Abraham of the Boston Glove; and Joel Sherman of the NY Post.