There probably will be a Major League Baseball season in 2020. The hard part is deciphering when it might begin and how long it might last.
For now, all that's certain is that Opening Day won't happen on March 26. That's when it was supposed to be prior to the coronavirus pandemic. But on March 12, the league canceled the remainder of spring training and punted Opening Day to at least April 9.
"I think the biggest topic is obviously with the CDC announcement, we're not going to be playing April 9," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In case anyone wasn't caught up on the facts of Major League Baseball's delay, this is pretty much the extent of them. From this point on, all that anyone—including us—can do is speculate as to when and how the 2020 season might come together.
Is a 162-Game Season Still Possible?
There are typically 162 games in an MLB regular season. Despite the Opening Day delay, some within Major League Baseball haven't ruled out that being the case this year.
To wit, Boston Red Sox president Sam Kennedy indicated to ESPN's Joon Lee on March 13 that MLB could make up lost games by extending the season:
Though that was before MLB expanded on its initial delay, Goold wrote that Manfred still didn't rule out a 162-game season when he spoke Monday:
"He said how to fit a 162-game schedule into a shrinking calendar is something they are discussing with the players' union. Asked if there was a date when they would have to consider a shortened season, Manfred said that would have to be discussed."
If the league follows the CDC's guideline to its logical end, the earliest it can start the 2020 season is on May 10. By then, 45 days will have been lopped off the season's original span of 185 days between March 26 and September 27.
Making up that difference would require some combination of pushing the regular season into October, canceling previously scheduled off days, nixing the All-Star break (which lasts from July 13 to July 16) and perhaps scheduling doubleheaders.
In short, it would be a logistical nightmare that almost certainly wouldn't sit well with players.
Even if a May 10 start date is the best-case scenario, it doesn't seem realistic. Rather than going straight from no baseball activity at all to real games, both MLB and the MLB Players Association would likely want spring training to resume in some capacity.
That would necessitate another delay, which would shift a 162-game season away from improbable and closer to impossible.
What if the Season Started on Memorial Day?
In theory, MLB could resume spring training on May 10 and get two weeks' worth of workouts and exhibitions in before opening the regular season.
Conveniently, that would put Opening Day on track for Memorial Day, which falls on May 25.
At that point, teams would have roughly 110 games left on their original schedules. For what it's worth, that's about how long the 1981 season lasted because of a midseason strike.
Plus, there would be ways to squeeze in additional games. Even if the All-Star Game remains in place, extending the regular season, canceling off days and scheduling doubleheaders could get the final tally to, say, 120 or 125 games.
Granted, that would still be in suboptimal territory. But in terms of precedent, a 120- or 125-game season would fall between the 1994 (114 games) and 1995 (144 games) seasons. And unlike the '94 campaign, there would still be a World Series at the end of the 2020 season.
Referring to this as the best-case scenario might be going too far. But it's at least a possible and acceptable scenario.
And If the Season Is Delayed Past Memorial Day?
Given the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading in the United States, the CDC might eventually expand on its initial recommendation for postponing large gatherings. Even if that doesn't happen, the league and the union may insist on more than only two weeks of spring training after the current CDC guideline is lifted.
Either way, Opening Day could be delayed into June. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, some general managers are even bracing for July:
Under the original plans for the season, teams would have hit their 81-game midway points in late June. So the longer the delay drags on, the more likely it is that MLB will set an 81-game season as a baseline and try to tack on as many games as possible.
To this end, the All-Star Game would pretty much have to go.
The Midsummer Classic is a big show and everything, but having each team play three or four extra games would be far better for the league's bottom line. Besides, it would basically be impossible for fans, players and executives to choose the All-Star teams given the smaller sample size of games.
Between that and other measures, the league might be able to reach 90 or 95 games. But getting any further than that would presumably require pushing the end of the regular season deeper into October, at which point MLB would risk surpassing November 4 as its latest-ever date for a World Series game.
And whereas the trade deadline could hypothetically remain on July 31 if the season started on Memorial Day, it would surely have to be pushed back if Opening Day was delayed into June or July.
Though pushing the deadline back would give GMs more time to evaluate their teams, it would also impact prices in trade talks. Teams are wary enough of trading for two-month rentals. Imagine their wariness of trading for six-week or four-week rentals.
So Where's the Point of No Return?
Let's say the delay lasts into late July. Or heck, even into August.
By those points, MLB likely wouldn't be able to salvage even half of a season. It would be looking at a 70-, 60- or even 50-game schedule. In any case, it would be the shortest season in MLB history by dozens of games.
In other words, it would be short enough so as to be farcical. Rather than go through with it, MLB and the MLBPA might agree that canceling the season might be for the best.
That would open up a humongous can of worms, of course. MLB and the MLBPA would have to answer all sorts of questions in terms of players' contract statuses and service time, both of which would have the potential to dramatically reshape the upcoming free-agent class. The league's finances, meanwhile, would be a total wreck.
For the time being, we can all hope that it doesn't come to this. But with the way things are now, nothing should be ruled out.