Report: MLB focusing on plan that could see season start as early as May

The main entrance in front of Chase Field is devoid of activity Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Phoenix.. The Arizona Diamondbacks would have hosted the Atlanta Braves in their season-opening baseball game Thursday, but the start of the MLB regular season is indefinitely on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

MLB and its players are reportedly focusing on a plan, supported by high-ranking United States federal public health officials, that could allow the season to begin as early as May, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.

The plan, according to Passan, involves all 30 teams playing games — without fans in attendance — in the greater Phoenix area. Potential sites include Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, 10 spring training facilities and other fields that are nearby.

In a statement released Tuesday, MLB said it is still evaluating all options and has not made a decision yet on when play will resume.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan,” the statement reads. “While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

All players, coaching staff and other personnel would be living in relative isolation away from the general population at local hotels, travelling only to games and back, Passan reported.

The plan has several potential concerns that would need to be addressed before it came to fruition, though.

Chief among those concerns is an increase in available tests for the novel coronavirus that have a quick turnaround time.

Such tests are not widely available now but, according to Passan, there are those who are familiar with MLB’s plan who believe testing at that scope and scale will be available by early May — and would allow MLB’s testing to not interfere with access to tests for the general public.

Earlier on Monday, Baxter Holmes of ESPN reported that the NBA and NBPA were also collaborating on assessing rapid-response testing devices that could, theoretically, provide quick, efficient and accurate COVID-19 test results without detracting from the public’s testing capacity.

Logistically, executing a plan like this would also be challenging. As Passan notes, the league would require buy-in from players who would be forced to separate from their families for an indefinite period of time if the COVID-19 outbreak continues in the U.S. preventing teams from playing in their home stadiums.

Ensuring that players and staff members do not contract the novel coronavirus, even while in a secured setting, and that no MLB-affiliated personnel bring the virus into an Arizona community would be another barrier. As of Tuesday evening, 2,456 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Arizona, according to a database maintained by the New York Times, and 65 people have died.

Officials do not believe that a positive test would necessarily justify quarantining an entire team or shutting down the season once more, though, according to Passan, who notes that teams may carry significantly expanded rosters to account for the possibility of players testing positive.

This version of MLB’s plan carries financial implications as well — positive and negative. Increased roster sizes could mean that more players receive major league salaries. But not having fans in attendance means teams would forgo ticket sales that account for the largest proportion of their annual revenue.

Given these myriad concerns, a June Opening Day could be more realistic, Passan reported, but both sides remain focused on finding resolutions in time to salvage a condensed or shortened MLB season.

Baseball’s season had been set to start March 26 but spring training was halted on March 12. After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended restricting events of more than 50 people for eight weeks, MLB said it would not open until mid-May at the earliest.

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