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MLB has to be nearing decision day on 2020 season

Bryce Harper is entering his second season with the Phillies. (Ian D’Andrea)

Will there be a 2020 MLB season? One would think that over the next 10 or so days, we’ll get a better feel for that.

One thing does appear to be clear; the framework of the Arizona plan appears to have serious traction from people in high places.

Earlier this month, ESPN‘s Jeff Passan reported on some of the specifics of the potential Arizona plan, one that would have all 30 teams begin the season in the grand canyon state. The proposal suggests that players would report to Arizona as soon as early May, and part two of spring training would essentially serve as a proof of concept for how a regular season could look.

Additionally, this isn’t a plan that was simply thought up by executives at MLB just trying to think of a way to diminish their losses in a season that’s already been altered. In recent days, both Passan and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports have suggested the Arizona plan may be the most likely plan if there’s going to be a 2020 MLB season. So too has Dr. Anthony Fauci, the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. While he didn’t cite the Arizona plan exactly, he described how baseball could return last week, and his concept shared many similar elements to the Arizona plan.

Under the Arizona plan, there are sacrifices expected to be made that would earn the medical support of Fauci and other respected minds. First of all, there will be no fans attending games to start the season. It’s hard to think of a way where fans will be able to attend MLB games at any point in 2020, but they certainly wouldn’t at the outset. Secondly, Passan suggested in his initial article that “players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium.” Fauci took things a step further, saying that he believes players would need to be surveilled in their hotels to assure that they weren’t coming into contact with the outside world.

Under those circumstances, among others, there could potentially be an MLB season in 2020, one that starts to take form over the coming days and weeks.

Here’s the problem: the Arizona plan may clear medical hurdles, but gaining the support of players, especially prominent ones, appears to be an uphill battle.

As part of this plan, players (and all team employees) would be kept in a hotel and only allowed to leave for their games, held in a manner similar to jurors on high-profile cases. Players wouldn’t be cut off to the outside world completely – they could still watch TV and use apps like FaceTime and Twitter. However, at least to start the season, many players would be asked to leave their homes and families, unsure when they will return and see loved ones in person again.

Even from people who aren’t typically die-hard baseball fans, there does appear to be a belief that it would be in America’s best interests for the sport to return at some point this summer and help the country to begin to move forward. Such a responsibility is one of the reasons that Phillies icon Cole Hamels – now a member of the Atlanta Braves – has suggested he would be willing to leave his family for an indefinite period of time if that was the only way to assure there is a 2020 season.

However, at least among high-profile players that have already made large sums of money in their careers, Hamels appears to be an outlier so far. Mike Trout, the three-time American League MVP, called the idea of a sequestered season “pretty crazy” last week when asked about the possibility. Trout’s wife is pregnant with the couple’s first child and is due this summer, the same reality facing new Phillies righty Zack Wheeler, who has voiced opposition to the Arizona plan.

Of course, Trout could be worth close to $1 billion by the time his career concludes. Wheeler just inked a five-year/$118 million deal. Both are set financially, whether there’s a season in 2020 or not. Maybe players that are in their pre-arbitration or arbitration years will be more willing to sequester. But if Trout, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, digs his heels in against a proposal, it’s fair to wonder if baseball will be able to move forward with it.

Hall of Famer Chipper Jones said late last week that while he wants to see sports return, he fears there may not be a 2020 MLB season. The former National League MVP told Zach Gelb of CBS Sports Radio that he believes if baseball returns and one player tests positive for COVID-19, that would force another suspension of the season.

There was a suggestion in the initial Passan report that baseball didn’t believe that if an individual player tested positive for Coronavirus it would lead to the season being halted. However, it’s one thing to say that, it would be another thing to have a player test positive for COVID-19 and move forward with the schedule even as there would likely be public outcry to stop the season. It also feels naive to think that if one player – while sequestered – contracts the virus, no one else on his team will have. After all, while Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19, he wasn’t the only player on his own team or in the sport to have contracted it.

Jones, who last played in 2012, suggested that he believes putting together the Arizona plan would be a “logistical nightmare.” He may have a point. Even if players agree to be sequestered, will enough hotel workers be willing to set their lives aside so there can be an MLB season? Sure, Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, is a dome, but are some teams really going to be playing games outside in the middle of the summer in Arizona? How would a batter and a catcher follow social distancing guidelines?

Perhaps the Arizona plan is the most likely scenario for there to be a 2020 season. It’s certainly hard to see the Arizona-Florida plan, one broken by Bob Nightengale of USA Today, as a good idea after a weekend where residents in Florida ignored medical experts and flocked back to beaches. No other serious plan appears to have gained any traction.

But, it’s getting late early. We’re going on a month since the MLB season was initially slated to begin. It’s going to be May before you know it, and baseball will need a few weeks to prepare for a season. Maybe both the MLB and MLBPA will come together and embrace a flawed plan rather than see the cancellation of the entire season. Or maybe, there will simply be too many issues to work around, and MLB won’t return until 2021.

We should know relatively soon.


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