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Well, it takes a backseat to a putsch in Washington, but after a rough year-plus, minor league baseball teams finally heard something they like this week.
While Major League Baseball doesn’t seem to have a way to delay starting spring training, I had wondered how exactly teams would go about opening camps, which pose the biggest threat in terms of number of people in a concentrated area. The midsummer restart of the 2020 season allowed every team to conduct a training period in their home cities/metro areas, but that’s not really an option during the traditional Valentine’s Day arrangement.
Baseball America provided the first answer to that question, saying MLB will conduct a two-part spring training. Big-leaguers and Triple-A types will go first, followed by players ticketed for the lower leagues with no overlap. This would push back the start of the Double-A and A-ball seasons to early May.
On its face, this seems like Birmingham, Winston-Salem and Kannapolis are in a better position than Charlotte (assuming they all remain White Sox affiliates). While the lower three clubs all face a later Opening Day, they also get an extra month to hope more fans can attend, which is vital to the whole business model. The missing games up front would be tacked on to the back end of the season, and those leagues would forgo a postseason.
Meanwhile, Triple-A teams might have a hard time taking shape if there are geographical restrictions, or if some MLB teams revert to the alternate training site model to host players standing by.
Most notably, Triple-A schedules will depend on whether MLB teams are still operating in strictly controlled, limited-access “bubbles.” While MLB teams travel on charter flights, Triple-A teams travel on commercial flights. If there are concerns about the risk of Covid-19 transmission on those flights, MLB could return to the alternate site model for the early part of the season until the coronavirus vaccines are more widely distributed and outbreaks around the country are diminished. […]
Some operators said they would like to wait until late May or Memorial Day weekend to begin their seasons, figuring the spread of the vaccine and warmer weather would give them a better chance at playing in front of crowds. Others said they would prefer an early May start date, but no one Baseball America spoke with wanted to start on time in early April.
There are no perfect solutions, but this seems like a good first idea, assuming it’s subject to change as conditions become known. The White Sox would have to hard-code what would effectively be another 60ish-man player pool, rather than shift players between major- and minor-league camps based on performances and need. But when figuring how few players truly make the Opening Day roster from way off the radar, they’d probably have all the players they’d need to get started. Meanwhile, lower-level players would merely be on a schedule many of them have encountered, where they spent April in complex ball/extended spring training before being assigned to an affiliate later in the year.
The tethering of the MLB and Triple-A seasons would also limit awkwardness from September call-ups, which usually only interfere with a minor-league roster for a couple days, rather than a whole month or more.
If this format is able to be codified over the next month or so, I can see it being an early boon for fringe players/NRIs. The Drew Andersons and Ryans Goins of the world might be stashed up top to be swapped in and out during any early uncertainty, while players who merit carefully managed workloads can wait for the second spring training in order to avoid emergencies altering more carefully laid plans.
It may turn out that even this plan isn’t conservative enough, but I think it has the right idea for most of the people involved. I’m sure it’s not great to hold off another several weeks on paying bills, and Kannapolis sure would love to open its still-brand-new ballpark, but after losing an entire year of development, a mere month’s delay might be the world’s easiest marshmallow test.
(Photo by Amcannally)