By Jaime Segui, PSO Director of Baseball Player Personnel
Jun 25, 2020

After months of negotiations, Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association have finally agreed on a 60-game regular season schedule for the 2020 season. For baseball to return this year, it had to undergo drastic changes to their everyday routines. Players, owners, and fans must adapt quickly to what will no doubt be a totally different and unique experience this year. Here’s what to know about this season’s incredibly unique circumstances and how it will impact various aspects of the game in 2020.

MLB has scheduled Opening Day for July 23rd or 24th with players arriving to training camps on July 1st. The 60-game regular season will not affect the traditional postseason calendar as the season is set to end on September 27 and the playoffs will proceed as usual with three division winners and two wild cards in each league (10 total playoff teams). Teams will also be able to play in their home ballparks, as long as they fulfill all the necessary health precautions.

One of the questions regarding baseball’s return was the location of where these games were going to be played. Early on, it was believed that teams were going to use their Spring Training facilities in Arizona and Florida to play regular season game and form some kind of bubble like the NBA is doing.  

In order to reduce the risk of players and other personnel contracting the coronavirus, MLB will limit team’s travel during the regular season. This means that teams will only play their division rivals and their regional counterparts of the opposing league. The 2020 schedule will feature 40 division games and 20 interleague matchups, according to Jon Heyman.

There were early rumors of drastic changes for this season, like a previous report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today of a potential 3-division format based on location (forcing every team to form new divisions). But at the end of the day, teams will stay in their traditional divisions, and will only play teams within their same region.

So for example, the Yankees and every other AL East team will only play their four division rivals (Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, & Orioles) and the five teams in the NL East (Braves, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, and Nationals). This means any postseason meeting between any non-division rival before the World Series will be the first time those teams meet in the season, adding another layer of intrigue to this unique situation.

One thing still remains in limbo however. The traveling situation for the Toronto Blue Jays is still unknown. In the agreement between MLB and the union, there is no mention of any specifics regarding the travel between Canada (Toronto) and the United States. Toronto could end up playing in Buffalo or Florida instead this year. 

Related: “MLB Teams & Players Most Impacted by Opening Day’s Delay”

The designated hitter has been a topic of conversation for many baseball fans in recent yeas after the AL adopted it in 1973. The main argument against its full adoption is that the DH takes key strategical aspects out of the game (bunting, double switches, pinch-hitters, etc.). 

The league has been in discussions with the owners and players for several years about potentially implementing the DH for both leagues, however it hasn’t gone anywhere. But these extraordinary circumstances have forced the league to make changes this year. In the agreement, the DH will become universal, at least for the 2020 season, and possibly beyond. 

This obviously impacts National League teams heavily, who can now find a spot for offense-first type players in their lineups without exposing their liabilities on the defensive end. Take for example the Mets, who could play Yoenis Cespedes (who is returning from multiple foot injuries and surgeries) in a DH role instead of throwing him in the outfield where his range will be limited and he is more likely to hurt himself again. 

This could also benefit some free agents like Yasiel Puig and Scooter Gennett who could be offered contracts by NL teams looking to add an extra hitter. Fans can expect signings to happen soon, because the league’s transaction freeze ends this upcoming Friday. For the league, this will be an experiment to see how it goes and a chance to evaluate the fans and players’ reactions to the change. This very well could be the beginning of a permanent DH for all 30 MLB teams. 

According to Jayson Stark of The Athletic, roster size will change as the season progresses. Each of the 30 MLB teams will designate a pool of 60 players as part of their expanded roster in order for key prospects to gain some experience this year with no official  minor league season occurring in 2020. Teams must submit their 60-player pool by Sunday, June 28th at 3pm ET. 

Major League rosters will allow 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, then 28 players after the 15th day of the season. Two weeks after the 15-day mark, rosters will go down to 26, which was the original roster size for 2020. The players not selected for MLB rosters will take part of the “taxi squad” and will practice in a MiLB facility nearby as essentially each team’s only minor league roster that’s eligible to get called up during the 2020 season. 

The biggest underlying factor in whether sports could return or not is the expansion of medical protocols taken by the league and all 30 individual teams. As reported by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic in mid-May, MLB delivered a 67-page rough draft with all of the proposed medical protocols that teams and players must take in order for the season to begin. Many of those protocols suggested by the league are part of the new agreed upon plan.

The league will put in place mass coronavirus testing for all players, coaches, staff, and umpires. All personnel will get tested at least twice a week. The tests that MLB will be using will be provided by a lab in Utah, Commissioner Rob Manfred stated in an interview with CNN back in May 14. That lab, Manfred says, has done drug testing for minor leaguers in years past.

Manfred said that the players will be continuously tested in order to reduce the risk that comes with the time lag between test results. “We feel comfortable that by doing multiple tests a week and to try to minimize that turnaround time, we are doing everything humanly possible to make sure that the players are safe,” stated the commissioner.

In addition, the league wants players and staff to take temperature checks and fill out symptom questionnaires before entering facilities. According to Drellich and Rosenthal, if anyone has a temperature of 100.4 or above, that person will not be permitted to enter the facility and will be required to self-isolate

Team facilities are restricted to essential personnel only, which includes the players, coaching staff, clubhouse staff, front office representatives, members of the team’s ownership, translators, grounds crew, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical personnel. Each club will maintain a designated testing area, and will enforce contact tracing as precaution to a player potentially contracting the virus. 

The injured lists will be altered this year as now every player (batter or pitcher) is eligible for the 10-day IL, and the 60-day IL that doesn’t count against a team’s 26-man roster will now be a 45-day IL this year. Also, for the first time ever teams can use a COVID-19 IL with no minimum or maximum stay if the player tests positive, is showing symptoms, or is in risk of contracting the virus.

The biggest risks baseball will face, like every other major sports league trying to resume operations, is what happens when a player or team official contracts the virus. If a player contacts the virus, he must self-quarantine and will not be cleared until he tests negative twice. They will have to follow the quarantine requirements and be subject to multiple testing throughout the course of 7-14 days while the rest of the team will be heavily monitored while still being allowed to play. 

Along with the universal DH, the new extra innings rule will directly impact how the game is played. The new rule states that starting in the 10th inning, each team will begin with a runner on second when they start their half of the inning. This rule was implemented last year in the MiLB system and a similar rule is also part of the World Baseball Classic. The runner on second will be the last out from the previous inning, unless a pinch-runner is used as a replacement. This rule will not be implemented during postseason play. 

While changing the rules of the game like this is controversial, for this season it make sense. With teams having to play 60 games in 66 days and with an iniative to get people out of the team facility as quick as possible, this almost becomes a health protocol. It will be interesting to see what strategy managers execute. Will they pitch for the strikeout, or will they walk a batter in order to create a double play situation? Even if it’s just for this season, it’s intriguing to see how managers approach this scenario.

The most polarizing topic during talks between the union and the owners was salary. In March, the two sides agreed to 100% prorated salaries based on the amount of games played this season. However, owners believed that original deal was under the premise that fans would eventually be able to attend games. 

Now that the thought of fans attending any games this year is considered a long shot at best and the revenue loss associated with that, owners wanted players to take another pay cut this season. The league even tried pushing for a 50-50 revenue split between players and owners, but the players never backed down from demanding full prorated salaries. However, now the league is telling teams it’s up to them to decide on whether they can have fans or not based on local and state ordinances/procedures. 

Manfred had told CNN that if there is no season in 2020, the league could lose up to $4 Billion in revenue without any fans at games. In an exclusive report, the Associated Press revealed that MLB could lose around $640k per game with the stadiums empty. However, the players believe that the TV revenue from postseason games will be enough financial help for the league to take care of employee expenses. The league recently signed a $470M/year deal with Fox just for a few annual postseason series’. 

Now that they are set to play under the March plan that was already agreed upon, players will receive 100% prorated salaries for the duration of the 60-game season. The union did not budge in any of the negotiations and they got what they wanted in that aspect, but will only take home a total of 37% of what they would’ve made with full salaries.

Other Rule Changes

  • Position Players Pitching: MLB pulls back on the rule they had set this past offseason. In 2020, position players were not supposed to pitch unless the game was in extra innings or one team had a 6+ run deficit. However, position players are now allowed to pitch whenever a manager pleases to use them in 2020. 
  • Postponements: Game postponements will not happen this year as part of the rules set by MLB. Any game that is stopped due to weather before the 5th inning (games don’t become official until then), it will now be resumed at that point at a later date instead of started all over.
  • Trade Deadline: According to Stark, the new deadline will be August 31st. It could potentially be a fascinating trade deadline with likely more teams than normal still in contention. To the contrary, many teams could also decide to sell due to potential financial constraints (regardless of their record). 
  • Ejections and Suspensions: According to Pete Abraham, MLB will enforce strict social distancing rules even when it comes to everyone on the field of play. MLB could even reportedly suspend players or managers for disobeying these standards during the game and confronting umpires too closely. Everything must be done six feet apart and the league is strictly prohibiting any physical altercations (fights) this season. 

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