Major League Baseball has now made clear its hope for players to report to a rebooted training camp on July 1 and a July 24-26 opener. ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted last night that the league expects the MLBPA to respond to those dates and the health and safety protocols by 5pm ET today.
Exactly what the final iteration of those health-and-safety protocols will look like isn’t yet clear, although there are some standing indications of what to anticipate. There’s been plenty of back-and-forth about what changes might be put into place for the 2020 season, and while it’s all subject to change until the two sides have a formal agreement, it’s worth taking a pass through where things stand.
The Athletic’s Jayson Stark tweeted yesterday that a universal DH in 2020 was included in the initial version of health and safety protocols. The lack of a formal agreement means that the arrival of the universal DH in 2020 isn’t yet official, but MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that “both sides see value” in its implementation — at least for this season. The two parties will presumably discuss its implementation in future seasons this winter.
Also likely to remain in place, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, will be the realignment that sees each team play only within its own division and against the five teams of the corresponding division in the other league. The exact permutations of that scheduling arrangement could take a variety of forms (e.g. a pair of three-game series and one four-game series against divisional opponents, plus one four-game series against each of the five teams in the opposing league’s corresponding division), but the goal will be to generally limit travel schedules to the extent possible, not that it’s a perfect setup for all clubs. It’s not as though Seattle and Arlington are exactly next door, for instance.
The travel schedule impacts the Blue Jays, in particular. The lone Canadian club in MLB, the Jays’ scheduling would appear to be up in the air after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau extended the U.S./Canada border closure for non-essential travel until July 21. Non-essential air travel into the U.S. is still permitted, but returning to Canada would not be so straightforward.
Toronto’s Triple-A club is housed in nearby Buffalo, N.Y., so perhaps that could be deemed an acceptable alternate site, but that remains speculative. The Blue Jays last week closed down their spring facility in Dunedin, Fla. indefinitely after a player who’d been in contact with some of his Phillies peers displayed COVID-19 symptoms. The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond suggests that the Jays could share Tropicana Field with the Rays.
Other changes may well be on the horizon. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote over the weekend that the league and union had already agreed to begin extra innings with a runner on second base in an effort to avoid marathon games. (Pitchers would not be charged with an earned run if said runner scores.) They’ve also discussed the possibility of allowing already subbed-out players to reenter the game once it reaches extras and even discussed the possibility of ties in 2020, per Nightengale.
None of that is set in stone until the MLBPA formally agrees to the league’s health and safety protocols. While the ridiculous length and contentious nature of the scheduling half of return-to-play negotiations should caution against any assumptions that they’ll be approved without any pushback at all, we’ll get a better sense of where things stand by 5pm ET today.