Following last night’s recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Major League Baseball has issued a new statement confirming that Opening Day will be delayed considerably later than the original April 9 date:
Today Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. conducted a conference call with the 30 Clubs of Major League Baseball. Following last night’s newly updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) restricting events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, the opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance.
MLB will keep fans updated on decisions regarding plans for the 2020 schedule in the days and weeks ahead. The Clubs remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins. We will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts, and urge all baseball fans to follow suit. MLB extends its best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by the coronavirus.
Eight weeks from the CDC’s new guidelines last night will push things back until May 10, although there’s no indication that that’s a firm target date. Players will surely need a second installment of Spring Training to ramp back up for game readiness, and the restrictions on the size of gatherings could (and likely will) apply to exhibition contests as well. Even that May 10 date could be optimistic insofar as resuming exhibition play; USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted earlier today that multiple general managers are bracing for a delay that could extend into July.
As for the “playing as many games as possible when the season begins,” that remains a challenge in its own right. Manfred said on the aforementioned conference call that owners are still hoping to play a full schedule, although characterizing that as “difficult to envision” would be putting things mildly. Even a Memorial Day start time feels somewhat optimistic at present, and that would push the standard six-month season calendar back into December. Some stadiums, of course, are domed or have retractable roofs, which could aid in playing games late in the year when weather conditions are a concern, but there are myriad logistical challenges that would go along with playing games in neutral settings as necessary late in the year.
Some have suggested vastly increasing the number of doubleheaders played throughout the season, but one can imagine substantial pushback from the MLBPA on that front. The season already has very few off-days (relative to the number of games played), and increasing workload in an effort to reduce the overall length of schedule represents a heightened injury risk.
As has been the case since the the initial two-week delay was announced last week, the unknowns overwhelmingly outweigh the certainties. There’s no immediate means of accurately forecasting the rate at which the coronoavirus will spread — at least not in such a long-term scope. The league and union will surely take the downtime to discuss matters such as scheduling, player salaries, service time, postponing the draft and All-Star Game, pushing back the trade deadline and countless other situations necessitated by the unprecedented slate of delays. As for when Opening Day will actually take place, there’s just no clear way of accurately projecting that at this time.