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Major League Baseball pushes back start of season until at least late May

Any timetable to resume play would need to include at least three weeks of an additional “spring” training for players, especially pitchers.
Tampa Bay Rays Yoshi Tsutsugo and Willie Adames, in center, embrace as they talk while heading off the field after a Feb. 18 workout in Port Charlotte. There won't be any action on major-league fields anytime soon. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
Tampa Bay Rays Yoshi Tsutsugo and Willie Adames, in center, embrace as they talk while heading off the field after a Feb. 18 workout in Port Charlotte. There won't be any action on major-league fields anytime soon. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — In a logical and obvious move, Major League Baseball acknowledged that the Rays and other teams won’t start playing games until late May or June at the earliest.

Noting the latest recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restricting events involving more than 50 people for the next eight weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced Monday that “the opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance."

In a further sign that it will be months until players are back on the field even for workouts, commissioner Rob Manfred told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We’re really encouraging players to make a decision where they want to be over an extended period of time and get to that location as soon as possible."

Any timetable to resume play would need to include at least three weeks of an additional “spring” training for players, especially pitchers, to be ready for games, even with accommodations for expanded rosters.

Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told ESPN’s Marly Rivera on Monday that “it seems like June 1 will be the best scenario." If so, that would wipe out roughly one-third of the schedule, which was to start March 26.

What the schedule would look like when teams resume play will be a topic of much deliberation. Would the league have teams pick up where they would have been on that new start date, which would be easier logistically? Or re-draw the schedule, eliminating inter-league play and/or balancing the number of intra-divisional games? How many weeks of play could be added after the original Sept. 27 end date of the season? Would the July 13-16 All-Star break be canceled? Would the playoffs be condensed, or have a round stripped off?

“We’re not going to announce an alternate opening day at this point," said Manfred, speaking at Cardinals camp in Jupiter after a conference call with owners. “We’re going to have to see how things develop. I think the commitment of the clubs is to play as many baseball games in 2020 as we can, consistent with the safety of our players and our fans."

The last shortened season was in 1995, as a result of the owners lockout of players as part of a labor dispute.

Though some teams have shut down their spring camps, or announced plans to, the Rays as of now remain in accordance with the latest rules, which are to keep the Port Charlotte facility open for major-league players who want to work out there.

Nearly 30 of the players on the 40-man roster worked out in the weight room Monday, which was the day they got their weekly per diem of $195 a day for expenses, which the Rays are continuing to pay for now.

The Rays’ plan, as of now, is to keep the facility open, with a limited staff on hand, including medical care, though players are encouraged to stay away. Some of the non-roster players, who league-wide were told Sunday to head home, were also at the Rays facility picking up their gear.

The league and players union continue to discuss major issues, headlined by whether, and if so how, the players will be paid. Players are not paid during spring training and start earning their salaries on opening day, with pay dispersed on the 15th and 30th of each month.

In a memo sent to agents Monday, the union said, among other things, a freeze on roster moves is being discussed and may be soon implemented; protection is being sought for non-roster players with March opt-out clauses; 40-man roster players and select others who leave for home and aren’t getting their per diem expense money from their teams are eligible to receive up to $1,100 a week from the players association through April 9.

The league and and the union did announce a joint donation of $1 million to help fight hunger as a result of school closures and quarantines to the Feeding America and Meals on Wheels America groups.

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