It's not certain when the 2020 MLB season will get underway because of MLB and the players' union (MLBPA) are remaining fluid in their discussions.. Although it remains possible that no 2020 season will be played, the hope remains that some kind of abbreviated campaign will be possible once we're past the peak of the virus in the U.S. and Canada. It's a fluid situation, and as such
According to Ronald Blum of the Associated Press, one idea that emerged in recent discussions is to play all games in Arizona -- the Phoenix area in particular -- at least for the start of the season. Blum writes: "Ideas are still in the early stage, and the Arizona option would have many obstacles to overcome," the people familiar with the discussions said.
In addition to having a number of major league spring training facilities in the area, Phoenix also has Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. So there's an abundance of usable facilities, all mostly within close proximity to each other. Several teams also have spring training in Florida, but the complexes are far more spread out than they are in Arizona.
ESPN's Jeff Passan reports on several additional details. Most notably, sources tell Passan that the season could start as early as May -- but with a June return date perhaps being more practical -- and he confirms that all games would take place in the Phoenix area. More from Passan:
Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institute of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.
According to Passan, use of an electronic strike zone may also be considered in order for the plate umpire to be able to maintain some semblance of "social distancing." Also, players could be asked to sit apart from each other in the stands as opposed to being confined together in dugouts. Passan's story has many more compelling details on the potential plan, so do give it a full read.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic adds that representatives from the MLBPA and MLB commissioner's office began meeting on Monday and plan to continue discussions this week. More from Rosenthal:
If the two sides reach agreement and state and federal government approval is secured, it is unclear if the entire season would take place in Arizona, where the summer heat is oppressive, or if games eventually could be played in other cities as well, locales that would become more viable once the virus is more under control.
Federal officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention support the plan, and officials in Arizona are intrigued by the idea of hosting 30 major-league teams and bringing attention and business to their state, sources said. But an official from the Major League Baseball Players Association emphasized that even under potential political pressure, the union will protect the safety and interests of its players.
In Rosenthal's piece, he also highlights the concerns of whether or not players would be allowed to have their families stay with them in hotels, the logistics of getting government approved travel for players flying back into the U.S. internationally as well as the potential draining of medical resources, like tests, from those in greater need.
Ex-Marlins president David Samson offered his take on MLB's potential plan on Tuesday's Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen below:
Among states, Arizona at this writing has the 22nd most confirmed cases of COVID-19, which means it's not presently a "hot spot." That status could of course change, but if it remains on the lower side of the spectrum then this idea could become more viable. Whatever the case, MLB and the MLBPA must first agree to such a framework and then proceed to determine that it's workable, all while having events and timelines dictated by the trends of the pandemic. Suffice it to say, much has to happen before this or any other plan can be put into action.
MLB released the following statement on Tuesday regarding the reported plan:
MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.
Although MLB and the MLBA, per their agreement, have a stated preference for playing games in front of fans and only after public health officials have approved such gatherings, those preconditions might not allow a season of any length to happen. That's why both sides have also agreed that playing games at neutral sites in front of no fans is a possibility, and that would be required in order to see the "Arizona plan" through.
Players and owners obviously have heavy financial incentives to play as much of a season as possible -- even if it means no gate receipts -- which explains the openness to unconventional arrangements. Playing every team's games in Arizona, at least for the early part of the schedule, certainly qualifies as unconventional.