5:27PM: Officials from both the league and the players’ union will discuss players’ various concerns about the shutdown situation in a meeting tonight, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link).
In other news, the possibility exists that when the schedule does get underway, some games could be played within an empty-stadium environment. For instance, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker told Adam Hoge of NBC Sports Chicago and other media that owners of all Chicago sports teams, including the White Sox and Cubs, had agreed to either suspend home games or to not allow fans to attend home games until May 1.
2:11PM: Major League Baseball has officially halted on-field operations due as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. As per an announcement this afternoon, Spring Training has been suspended, and the start of the regular season will be delayed by at least two weeks.
The league’s full statement…
Following a call with the 30 Clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic. This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.
MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days. As of 4:00 p.m. (ET) today, forthcoming Spring Training games have been cancelled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Arizona have been postponed indefinitely.
MLB and the Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule. MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.
Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans. MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.
It was widely expected that the league would make a ruling of this nature in short order, particularly after the NBA’s announcement last night that it was suspending its season set off a chain reaction of similar halts in play by numerous other professional (such as Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League, and the Association of Tennis Professionals) and college sports organizations.
MLS set a 30-day suspension on its regular season, and the NBA is also facing at least a 30-day break (as per Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star). Major League Baseball’s 2020 season was scheduled to begin on March 26, and a two week delay to April 9 would set a timeline just shy of that 30-day mark. That said, it could be optimistic at best to expect games by April 9, given the global uncertainty surrounding the spread and treatment of COVID-19. These big-picture issues naturally take absolute top priority in the league’s mind, and only once those concerns are dealt with will MLB’s attention be more fully turned to baseball-related logistical factors, such as contractual terms, service time, player pay, how much time is needed for players to get prepared (or re-prepared) for regular-season action, etc.
While official Spring Training activities have been halted, some teams (including the Twins, Reds, Mets, and Nationals) are temporarily keeping their facilities open so players can take part in non-mandatory workouts. It remains to be seen how long camps will remain open, of course, as teams and players continue to monitor the situation and await further word from the league.
Should the halt in activities last far beyond April 9, a full 162-game season may not be feasible, unless the league was open to pushing the postseason fairly deep into November. At this point, MLB’s “variety of contingency plans” surely involves scenarios for a shortened season, perhaps akin to the 144-game 1995 season that didn’t begin until April 25 due to the players’ strike.