What we know about the MLB-MLBPA agreement for the 2020 season

While the novel coronavirus pandemic still has baseball and the remainder of the sports world at a standstill, the general framework for a potential 2020 season is beginning to emerge. MLB and the Players’ Association (MLBPA) have been in talks about how to proceed. Already they’ve forged agreements regarding service time, the draft, and salary advances, and now they’re reportedly coming to terms on how the 2020 season itself will take shape. 

While everything obviously depends upon the trajectory of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, owners and players are proceeding as though playing some semblance of a 2020 season will be possible. As for the MLB and MLBPA agreement to that end, here’s what we know so far. 

The MLB and MLBPA will only proceed with a 2020 season under certain conditions

MLB will have a season in 2020 only if the following things happen, per Jeff Passan of ESPN: 

  1. There are no longer any bans on mass gatherings in place that would prevent games from being played in front of fans at the ballpark.
  2. There are no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. or Canada. 
  3. Medical experts determine playing games would not present health risks for players, fans, or other team personnel. 

Based on what we know about the coronavirus thus far and the necessity of social distancing to limit the spread of it, it seems highly unlikely that those three conditions can be met anytime soon. Even if social distancing guidelines are relaxed in some locations, they likely won’t be in others, at least to the extent that heavily attended sporting events are possible. Even after social distancing policies are relaxed, it’s highly possible we’ll see flare-ups of the virus from time to time. As such, getting medical professionals to declare no health risks for games seems like an ambitious bar to clear. 

Based on these stipulations, it’s easy to take a pessimistic view on the prospects of having a 2020 MLB season at all. 

That said, the agreement does leave some wiggle room

Those firm pronouncements may not be so firm after all. Here’s a follow-up from Passan: 

So playing games at neutral sites and in empty ballparks would at least come close to nullifying those three conditions listed above. As of early Friday, MLB was still hoping to play a 140-game regular season with a 14-team postseason, according to Jon Heyman. That’s going to be almost impossible under any circumstances, let alone after waiting for those three stipulations above to be satisfied. Passan’s follow-up suggests that there’s some adaptability built into the MLB-MLBPA agreement, and that seems like a requirement if a season of any meaningful length is to be conducted. 

The 2020 season probably won’t look like any other season

In addition to what figures to be the significantly abbreviated length of the 2020 season, should it come to pass, a number of structural wrinkles may be necessary or at least beneficial in order to pull it off. Some details: 

As well, neutral-site playoff games in November are possible, depending on whether cold-weather teams in ballparks without roofs are involved. The aim is going to be to squeeze as many games as possible into the calendar, and that’s where the doubleheaders and lack of an All-Star break come in. And to accommodate the extra load, rosters could be bigger. In general terms, more games mean more money, and that’s the objective for owners and players alike. 

Again, it’s the virus and the public health responses to it that will determine the timeline. While MLB and MLBPA seem to have a blueprint for the 2020 season, it remains to be seen whether it’s a feasible one. 

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