In suspending the rest of Spring Training games, the MLB is clearly buying themselves time to figure out how best to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the ultimate resolution may impact the Atlanta Braves greatly.
Lord willing, no Atlanta Braves player – nor any other MLB player – gets this nasty virus (and we extend those wishes to everyone, for that matter). That clearly doesn’t mean that there won’t be impacts to baseball this year.
Indeed, the impacts have already begun: the Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons are done and the regular season is being delayed at least two weeks with an initial target start of April 9.
If you didn’t think this was a serious situation before… maybe you should reconsider, for the entire sports world certainly has done so.
While players are being encouraged to stay in their respective team facilities where access to workout gear and medical personnel will remain available, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what aspects will be changed to the 2020 season going forward… particularly if we find that two weeks isn’t sufficient.
How will minor league players survive this financially (they aren’t paid during Spring)? How will pitchers stay sharp and stretched out? Will teams start playing inter-squad games? How many players will ignore the advice and opt to go home?
There may be some ‘cooler heads prevailing’ news on that latter front:
One thing for sure: there will be a schedule crunch… and it’s one that will be giving team Traveling Secretaries a lot of headaches in the coming days. Let’s start there today…
The Current Schedule
The Atlanta Braves were scheduled to begin the year in the state of Arizona. While that state actually has fewer reported cases of the virus (as of this writing) than Georgia, the second series of the season was to take place in San Diego… and California has been one of the hardest hit states thus far.
Thus far, most institutions postponing their activities have done so up through the first (roughly) 10 days of April. If major league baseball were to follow suit, that would impact the games against the Diamondbacks and Padres, plus a pair of home series’ against Miami and San Diego (again).
After that, Atlanta is slated to hit the road again for visits to Miami (starting on that April 9 date) and up to the Mets… in another hard-hit state.
Part of the issue with scheduling will be the duration of this indefinite delay. The longer things are shut down, the harder it will be to flip the switches and get operations restarted. As noted, this will be particularly true for pitchers.
As such, it’s going to be vital that MLB get the restart date correct: they will most definitely not want to have to choose a date and then find out later that it has to change. To the end, erring on the conservative side – later in the calendar – would have to be the more prudent approach, and April 9 might be on the edge of that.
A two-week delay would be relatively manageable. Pitchers won’t take that long to get ramped back up and either inter-squad or sandlot-style games with other clubs could be arranged.
There would be a couple of options available to the league under this plan:
- Baseball could choose to take those initial games and move them to the end of the year instead of the beginning. That has a fair chance for doing the least amount of disruption for all concerned, including the potential for conflicts with other stadium events.
- These games could be canceled. This is almost certainly not likely, given two factors: (1) the uneven-ness of opponents and home/away dates; plus (2) the fact that each home date is a precious commodity in terms of revenue.
- Other options? Lots of double-headers… eliminate inter-league play… reduce intra-divisional games? None of these are at all likely as they are much more disruptive to the norm.
Prior to April 9, April plays their entire season series against the Padres, plus 3 games against the Marlins. Cancelling those games might immediately give their rivals a leg-up in the NL East race this year, given expectations for those clubs.
Some Additional Impacts
As it is, Fred wrote several days ago about how the lucrative income from Battery Atlanta is fueling the Atlanta Braves’ new payroll flexing. If people are reticent to enjoy the amenities contained there, that will impact the team’s bottom line… never mind if dates are outright eliminated.
In fact, if this goes longer than April 9… then all bets are off. I wrote 1,000 more words about how things might proceed from an April 24th start date… but relax: you’ve been spared that horror show for now.
So… even if this delay is only for a month, the impacts just on team schedules will be profound. In fact, MLB might even take the opportunity to get a bit creative…
However, at the lower levels…
Heck, every game missed is another set of dollars that impact the economy of baseball: and by that, I mean the myriad support staff, concessionaires, ushers… everybody involved in putting the game day in motion.
It’s not the most important aspect of this story, but it’s one that will impact the most people.
Those ‘everyday people’ will be the hardest hit: and that starts right now for those in Florida. This delay is the right thing to do for all concerned. But that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt all concerned.