Red Sox Rumors: MLB focused on all teams opening season in Arizona
By Sean Penney
Major League Baseball is focused on a plan that would allow the season to begin as early as next month but the Red Sox wouldn’t be playing in Boston.
We knew it would take some creativity to find a way to safely bring baseball back into our lives amid a global health crisis. How far Major League Baseball is willing to go to make that happen is about to be tested. We might get live sports back sooner than expected but the latest plan would mean the Boston Red Sox won’t be playing at Fenway Park.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that MLB is focused on a plan where all 30 teams would play games in empty stadiums in Arizona. Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, would be utilized along with several spring training facilities in the area.
The close proximity of ballparks in the Phoenix area would reduce travel and allow teams to be sequestered in local hotels where they can be kept relatively isolated. This would help control many variables that would allow them to adhere to CDC recommendations. The threat of exposure to the virus is reduced if players are limited to trips between the hotel and ballpark.
If this plan comes to fruition it could mean opening the season in May, although June seems more realistic since players will need to start over on their spring training routines before they are ready for regular season games.
While there is optimism that the season can begin relatively soon, there are a number of hurdles the league must overcome.
Health officials view MLB players as low-risk candidates for COVID-19-related issues due to their age and health but there are older managers, coaches and umpires to worry about. It only takes one case to throw a wrench into this plan. Nobody wants to start a season only to have it disrupted after a week or two if someone tests positive for the virus. One case is all it takes to force MLB to shut down again faster than you can say “Rudy Gobert.”
The plan also requires the players to buy in, which means convincing them to spend months away from their families while adhering to strict policies to keep them as isolated as possible. Most players will probably begrudgingly go along with any plan that allows them to still collect their paychecks but there could be some push back from the MLB Players Association.
MLB wants to squeeze in as many games as possible and one option being discussed as a potential way to get close to a full 162-game schedule is by having seven-inning doubleheaders. That might be the best way to schedule as many games as possible into a tighter window but it opens up plenty of questions and concerns.
Essentially playing 14 innings every day would be a grueling schedule even if it’s condensed into a shorter period. This opens players to greater risk of injury and fatigue, potentially leading to a decline in performance. Would MLB explore further roster expansion in order to counter those concerns? If so, would star players be expected to sit out a greater percentage of games in order to keep them fresh? We all want baseball back but providing a watered-down product isn’t the answer.
Shorter games with expanded rosters would impact teams differently. Teams with a strong rotation wouldn’t need to rely much on their bullpen since their starters can mostly be trusted to handle seven innings, or close to it. The Red Sox could benefit since their rotation is thin on workhorse starters and the opener strategy they toyed with in spring training would be easier to deploy in this scenario.
Eliminating mound visits for catchers and coaches is an option being discussed to keep some distance between players. This could be a good thing in terms of pace of play. If the impact on the game proves to be limited, MLB could look to enforce stricter limits on mound visits in the future as a way to speed up the game.
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It could also backfire if pitchers struggle when the option to speak with their catcher or coach is taken away. Catchers often visit the mound to switch up signs with runners on base, especially if they feel the opponent might be peaking in to look at their signs. Eliminating mound visits would make that more difficult. Is that a can of worms MLB wants to open in the wake of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal?
There are some appealing elements to this new plan that could have future ramifications on the game. MLB is considering using electronic strike zones in order to keep umpires further away from the players. Fans have been talking about the possibility of robot umps for years. If social distancing mandates trying this method now, it could convince MLB to stick with it if the test run is a success.
There are still plenty of details that the league would need to work out with the players and not every challenge has a clear solution. Changes may need to temporarily be made to revenue sharing since most teams won’t be able to sell tickets at their own ballparks. How much of an advantage will the Diamondbacks have, both on the field and financially, if essentially all their games will be home games?
There are going to be challenges with any plan and there really isn’t a perfect solution. Unless MLB is willing to cancel the season, concessions will need to be made on all sides. It’s far from an ideal situation but at least we are inching toward a resolution that would bring back baseball.