The Blue Jays and the rest of the MLB may be able to salvage a season somehow, but it’s hard to see the same for the minor leagues.
It sounds like there is increasing optimism that there could be a MLB season at some point in 2020, and that’s music to my ears, even if I’m not so sure that’s going to happen just yet.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan published a lengthy article on Sunday that described the latest in a developing situation in a development situation because of the Coronavirus pandemic that’s changed the world. It’s an ongoing negotiation between the league office and the Player’s Association, and without recapping Passan’s entire article, there are reasons to think a season could happen even if it comes in a very modified format.
However, the news wasn’t good all around I’m afraid. Passan used a ’20 questions’ format to explain things, and one of the areas he addressed was the idea of a MiLB season taking place.
"“Probably not, nope. Because major league rosters will be expanded both to account for a shortened spring training (and lack of pitchers’ abilities to pitch deep into games early on), that will take care of a number of upper-level players. Teams could theoretically house their minor leaguers at spring facilities and have them play unofficial (or official) games at all levels on backfields.But games in cities around the country? No. There is nothing official, no announcement, probably not one until MLB finalizes its plan, but the difficulty in wrangling it, and where it stands on the priority list, simply doesn’t compute.”"
The rest of Passan’s article is definitely worth reading, as it describes the proposed lengths that the big leagues will have to go in order to operate. We’re talking about scenarios including creating a “biosphere” in Arizona where all 30 teams live and play in quarantine, or possibly with 3-6 host cities with similar restrictions, playing games with no fans and making sure all players and coaches are regularly tested and monitored.
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It’s going to be an unprecedented scenario for the league and player’s union to be able to plan, and it’s really hard to imagine that they’ll be able to accommodate a minor league season at all. As it is, some of the owners are making the argument that playing games without fans and also outside of a local market (affecting their TV deals) could even cost them money. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true, but if that’s even close to the case, there’s no way that owners are going to fork over the cash required to keep the minor leaguers on the diamond, even if the idea of a lost year of development isn’t good.
What does that mean for the minor league pipeline? Well, there’s a good chance that a lot of young players are going to be stuck in limbo. However, Passan does mention the idea of expanded rosters, and it might be a scenario that the Blue Jays will have to entertain for some players that they really want to see developing. For example, any service time discussions be damned, how could Nate Pearson not pitch with the Blue Jays this year if the alternative is sitting at home? Depending on how this league looks, that might even be a fair question for someone like Alek Manoah too, who otherwise wouldn’t have sniffed a big league opportunity in 2020 in his first year in the organization.
For now there’s no sense in overreacting too much, especially until we know more about the local health restrictions, and just as importantly, until a formal agreement can be made between the players and the ownership group. There are going to be financial hurdles, negotiations to be had, and an open-minded attitude necessary from all parties in order to make this work at the highest level.
As for the rest of the minor leaguers, I guess it remains to be seen what the rest of 2020 will bring them, but right now it’s not looking all that great.