Baseball’s calendar soon to be upended with a season unlike any other

A Toronto Blue Jays practice hat sits on baseballs during baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – Though Major League Baseball’s season will likely be delayed by months, Joe Panik officially made the Toronto Blue Jays‘ roster Sunday. When he’ll make his on-field debut with the team is another question entirely.

The move, which was necessitated by a March 15 opt-out clause in the infielder’s deal with the Blue Jays, underscores just how quickly things are changing in baseball. The few days that have passed since the league officially suspended spring training and delayed the regular season haven’t been enough for players and owners to formally agree on what a new normal looks like. Yet it’s already becoming clear that the entire baseball calendar will soon be upended for everyone involved.

As of Monday afternoon, rosters had not yet been frozen. That meant the Blue Jays had to add Panik even though games are now two-plus months away, given MLB’s plan to follow the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and restrict gatherings of 50-plus people for the next eight weeks.

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Of course, that’s a minor detail compared to the many large-scale changes baseball will have to consider. Let’s start with spring training. Once it’s safe to resume play, the question becomes how much time players need to get ready. While the answer depends partly on the duration of the layoff, some within the industry believe a minimum of two weeks would be required. More time would help ensure players are fully ready, but there may also be economic pressure from owners to get the most out of a considerably shorter season.

After opening day, the next event on the baseball calendar is the amateur draft, now scheduled for June 10-12. Many teams, including the Blue Jays, have already cut back on scouting considerably to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some expect MLB to formally impose further scouting sanctions to discourage teams from traveling needlessly or recklessly in search of an information edge.

And if high school and college seasons are suspended in the days ahead, it’ll be a moot point. As Blue Jays team president Mark Shapiro said Friday, “There’s less and less baseball for scouts to see, even high school and college baseball.” Under those circumstances, teams will lack the information they need to conduct a draft. It seems inevitable to some involved that it will have to be pushed later in the summer.

“It’ll be a mess,” one scout said.

From an industry standpoint, that’s a major issue even if the casual fan doesn’t notice. More obvious changes could be coming to the All-Star Game, which is now scheduled for July 14 at Dodger Stadium. If the season doesn’t begin until June, does it really make sense to hold an All-Star Game just six weeks later? That would be the equivalent of naming All-Stars in mid-May during a normal season. Instead, MLB might look to delay the midsummer classic until August for the first time since the strike-shortened 1981 season.

Using that same logic, the July 31 trade deadline will likely have to be pushed back, too. Otherwise teams will be forced to decide whether they’re buying or selling after just a couple months.

That’s likely just the beginning. Within the industry, there are many related questions about the shape of the upcoming season. Would expanded rosters be required if MLB attempts to compress its schedule and eliminate off days? How will arbitration work after a season in which players can’t possibly play in as many games? And what about the playoffs?

It’s endless, really, and there’s no possibility of precise answers without a firm start date. But even in the absence of details, it’s already apparent that the 2020 season will unfold unlike any we’ve seen before.

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