WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - These are strange times. Strange times with no real road maps to consult.
Major League Baseball has dealt with work stoppages before, but those were strikes or lockouts or a one-week hiatus following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This is quite different.
It’s tempting right now to try to project what’s going to happen in two weeks or two months. But the truth is, we have no idea what’s going to happen in two days.
Let’s try to take a rational look at the challenges MLB - and the Nationals in particular - are now facing, and attempt to answer some of the most pressing questions you probably have at the moment ...
* Is spring training canceled or not?
All spring training operations are officially suspended. That’s what MLB announced Friday evening, after a long day of discussions and negotiations with the MLB Players Association. The league and the union informed players they may return to their team’s home city, their own hometowns or stay in their team’s spring training town. Anyone who wants to gather at complexes to work out is allowed to, but there won’t be any official, full-squad workouts and certainly no exhibition games.
* But aren’t the Nationals staying in West Palm Beach?
It looks like most of them are, possibly the entire roster. That’s what multiple players I communicated with Friday said they expect. The entire team will meet this morning at the complex and discuss the various options and come up with a more concrete plan, but players say they’ve been told it’s actually safer to stay here and not travel. On top of that, they really want to continue preparing for the season, so they feel like they’re as ready as possible when they’re given the green light.
* What will their workouts look like?
It wasn’t entirely clear to those I spoke with Friday. One player said he expects it to be more than the informal, individual workouts guys do when they arrive early to spring training, before pitchers and catchers officially report. But it won’t be full-fledged, organized, full-squad workouts like you’d typically see in late February. A lot of this is going to be hashed out at today’s meeting.
* What about minor league camp?
That’s also to be determined. Officially, both major league and minor league camp are suspended. But it’s possible some (or maybe many) minor leaguers will choose to stay and work out just as the big leaguers have.
* Will these workouts be open to the public or the media?
No. The complex will be closed to everyone other than team personnel. And plenty of non-essential team personnel will be heading back to D.C.
* How long will this go on?
Nobody can say with any certainty. It’ll all depend on what’s happening around the country as a whole. Once the crisis is under control and the experts say it’s safe to resume normal activities, they’ll presumably start up a more formal spring training, including exhibition games. But it’s anyone’s guess when that will happen. And on the flip side of the equation, if the situation around the country gets significantly worse, or if it’s determined it’s unsafe for the players to remain together in this fashion, the workouts could be halted.
* How long would a second round of spring training need to be?
This probably depends on how long the hiatus lasts. If it’s back to business within a couple weeks, they could probably ramp things up quickly and play maybe seven to 10 exhibition games before opening the season. But if the hiatus drags on for a month or more, a longer spring training probably will be necessary.
* Is an April 9 opening day plausible?
I mean, I suppose it’s possible. But it would require things getting under control in a real hurry. To start the season on April 9, they’d need to resume exhibition games no later than April 1, which is only 18 days from now. And that would be as compressed a window as you could imagine. Privately, just about everyone in the sport is prepared for this to take much longer, with opening day perhaps even pushed back into May.
* Will the regular season still be 162 games?
There were reports Friday night that Commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark are going to negotiate that very subject today, and that there’s still the belief a 162-game season is possible. Boy, that’s tough to imagine given the current state of the country. Even if the regular season began on April 9, it would have to be extended to Oct. 11 to get the full 162 in. Which means Game 7 of the World Series would fall on Nov. 11. And, keep in mind, that’s a best-case scenario in which the season is delayed only two weeks. If it’s delayed more than that, you’re looking at late November or even December. The only way to play baseball that time of year is in a handful of warm weather cities or domed ballparks. Would MLB really hold the World Series at a neutral site? I don’t see that. The sport has been willing to play shortened seasons before because of work stoppages (1981, 1995). You’d think that’s more likely to happen this year.
* Will tickets be refunded?
All tickets for canceled spring training games are eligible for refunds. Go to http://fitteamballpark.com for more information. At the moment, a plan has not been announced regarding tickets for regular season games that may be canceled. The Nationals said they will announce those plans once it’s been determined what the final 2020 schedule looks like.
* Are you staying or are you going home?
With the upcoming informal workouts closed to reporters, I’m heading home this afternoon. Hopefully, there will be reason to come back and cover the resumption of spring training sooner rather than later.