There continues to be a lot of discussions — and limited answers — on what the 2020 baseball season could look like once it finally gets going.
The owners and players reportedly reached a deal Thursday that could be finalized Friday which would allocate money for player payment and secure the existence of the 2020 draft, albeit in a shortened version.
But most pressing for fans is when their favorite teams will be playing and what the schedule will look like. It's important to note that those kinds of things are nearly impossible to lock into place with so much uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But that hasn't stopped discussions from taking place, and MLB Network's Jon Heyman offered up a host of new details about some of the possibilities being discussed.
Ideal start date
According to Heyman, the "best-case scenario" at the moment would be for baseball to restart in late May and play a 140-game regular season that could bleed into October.
In a perfect world that could mean Opening Day would come in late May or that the expected "second spring training" ramp-up period would start in late May, with a hoped for Opening Day in early June, as was reported earlier this week.
The regular season lasting more than a few days into October hasn't been seen since 2001, when the final month of the season was paused for a week following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
While 140 games is less than 162 games, it's still a pretty big number and would be a pretty good outcome to all this uncertainty surrounding not just the future of the Major League Baseball season but the future of the global situation, in general. That, of course, is why it's a "best-case scenario," and things could get very different very fast.
Even in that ideal situation, however, the regular season would lose two months and only 22 games. So how would they cram 140 games into four and a half months?
Heyman tweeted that there could be significant changes made, including the expansion of rosters, fewer days off and an increased number of scheduled doubleheaders.
ESPN's Jeff Passan reported earlier this week that players would be all about playing an increased number of doubleheaders if it means getting as close to that 162-game mark as possible, as many as two per week. That's a lot of doubleheaders, but it's also the easiest way to assure the highest number of games are played.
The idea of expanded rosters has been talked about, and it deals mostly with pitching. That "second spring training" would be mostly for the benefit of starting pitchers, who would need to get back into in-season shape after ramping up in February and March only for the sport to be shut down. In place of allowing them the necessary time to do that, which could be almost an entire month once the sport is finally able to restart, there would be more pitchers on each roster. So maybe for the first month of the season, starters are only going four innings at a time instead of seven.
More teams in the playoffs
Heyman tweeted it's possible the postseason could be expanded to include 14 teams instead of the typical 10.
We've heard in the past that baseball has been mulling adding teams to the playoffs, with that odd and somewhat confusing "choose your opponent" format that was reported a while back. And, as Heyman mentioned, this would be an opportunity to test that out, potentially with it lasting past these unprecedented circumstances of a shortened season.
Last month, the New York Post's Joel Sherman reported that the commissioner's office was "seriously weighing" a new playoff format that would involve seven teams from each league and feature teams with better records picking their first-round opponents.
If you missed that back in February, here's the Cliff's Notes version:
— A best-of-three wild card round would basically be added to the existing bracket. The team with the best record in the league gets a bye into the existing Division Series round.
— To seed the new wild card round, the division winner with the next best record gets to pick which of the bottom three wild card teams it wants to play in a best-of-three series hosted at its home ballpark. The remaining division winner picks from the other two teams. And the wild card team with the best record gets to play host to the remaining wild card team not selected by the two division winners.
— Still with me? All this opponent picking would be broadcast live on TV to create some sort of Selection Sunday-esque drama.
Why would it be a good idea to launch this new format during these odd times?
It would allow certain teams that might have been able to create a postseason appearance out of a regularly scheduled 162 games a shot to win a championship in this shortened season.
But it also provides a test case for the league. The union might be more willing to accept this format for one shortened season rather than for the foreseeable future when the next CBA is hashed out. And then if it doesn't work, the league hasn't committed to it for years to come with television partners and other stakeholders.
Neutral-site playoff games
If the regular season is going to last into October, then the postseason is going to last into November. And that means teams are going to have a tough time playing the most meaningful baseball games in cold-weather cities.
To avoid an onslaught of rain and snow delays — not to mention simple low temperatures, which are unfriendly to baseball, even if they don't delay games — the league might stage playoff games at neutral locations, in domed stadiums or warm-weather cities, Heyman tweeted.
That would be a dramatic departure, obviously, and playoff baseball without home fans is a tough thing to imagine. But the NFL manages to create a neutral-site spectacle every year with the Super Bowl. Why couldn't the World Series follow suit?
The biggest difference is the Super Bowl is one game and the World Series is as many as seven games. But by playing in one warm-weather locale, without the need for excessive travel, those games could be squeezed together into a single week.
The whole thing might be moot if the World Series is between the Los Angeles Dodgers (who play in a warm-weather location) and the Houston Astros (who have an indoor stadium). But if the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals are the two teams playing in the Fall Classic — or if we get the much dreamed about Crosstown World Series between the White Sox and Cubs — November in Miami sounds a lot more conducive to championship baseball than November in the Northeast or the Midwest.
Games without fans?
Before social distancing measures became increasingly stringent in the United States, there was thought to the Major League Baseball season continuing as scheduled, just without fans present.
Recommendations from public health organizations since grew to restrict public gatherings of at least 50 people — and in many cases, gatherings smaller than that — which would include every Major League Baseball game, what with two 26-man rosters getting together. So fans or no fans, forging ahead was impossible.
But in the event conditions change to allow those sizes of gatherings again, while still preventing 30,000 people from congregating in the same building, the league would consider playing games without fans, Heyman tweeted, though it's something it really doesn't want to do.
The obvious downside is the lost revenue from ticket sales, and if the best-case scenario already involves chopping 22 games from the schedule, teams will already be experiencing a good deal of lost revenue already.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.