TORONTO — If the 2020 baseball season was going according to plan, the Toronto Blue Jays would be opening a series in Arlington, Texas Monday with plans to visit the White Sox in Chicago later this week.
Instead, the Blue Jays’ players and staff are at their own homes, far from one another and nowhere near the Rangers’ new ballpark. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that 2020 schedule will never unfold as planned.
But plans are now emerging for a new kind of 2020 season, and the proposed changes would have major implications for the Blue Jays. As always, caveats are necessary here, since the virus remains a potentially deadly threat and the logistics of a season would be incredibly complex on many levels. At this point, neither owners nor players have signed off on anything.
With that said, a proposed plan offers hints at what the coming season may look like. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, MLB owners will vote Monday to approve a plan that would see 48 per cent of revenue go to players during a 2020 season unlike any we’ve seen before. Among the proposed changes:
• Teams would begin a season of 81 or 82 games in early July
• 14 teams would make the playoffs instead of 10
• There won’t be realignment, but Nightengale writes that “teams will only play opponents in their division and the corresponding geographical division from the other league”
• With so much inter-league play scheduled, owners will also vote on a universal DH
• Rosters would expand to 30, and each team would also have a 20-player taxi squad of reinforcements
Viewed from the perspective of the Blue Jays, these changes would increase their chances of making the playoffs. While the Blue Jays added meaningfully to their pitching staff over the winter and have emerging stars on the position-player side, this is still a team that lost 95 games a year ago.
Not only would the shortened schedule introduce an element of randomness that benefits potential surprise clubs like Toronto, the expanded playoff field opens the door for non-powerhouse teams.
If nearly half of the league makes the playoffs, the barrier for entry’s that much lower. Consider that the Marlins were the seventh-best team in the National League in 2016 despite having a sub-.500 record. The following year, only five American League teams had winning records, so a seven-team playoff field would have included multiple 80-win teams (two of the Royals, Angels and Rays).
In other words, the 2020 Blue Jays might not even have to overperform by that much to contend. If the playoff field expands to seven per league, even teams with projected records below .500 will legitimately be in the mix.
At the same time, other fringe contenders may have an easier path to the post-season if teams are confined to their own geographic regions. Objectively speaking, the Central divisions look weakest according to the projected standings at FanGraphs. On average, the 10 teams in those two divisions project to win just 80 games. That opens the door for a club like the White Sox to beat up on the Pirates, Royals and Tigers.
By contrast, the East and West divisions are stronger, with combined projected records above .500. Out west, that complicates the path ahead for would-be contenders like the Padres and Rangers.
In the Blue Jays’ case, a regular dose of games against the Marlins and Orioles wouldn’t make up for the challenge of playing contenders like the Yankees, Rays, Nationals, Braves, Mets, Red Sox and Phillies. But in a season where nearly half of baseball’s teams make the playoffs, at least some obstacles should be expected.