Major League Baseball has officially determined its course of action to return to play in 2020 after much back-and-forth with the MLB Players Union, and here’s what fans can expect to see.
Rather than a return to their typical spring sanctuary of George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., the Yankees will kick off a “summer camp” (or Spring Training 2.0) in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium starting July 1 to allow players to get back into game-shape for the start of the 2020 season.
Instead of the traditional full-length 162-game slate, clubs will play a shortened 60-game season beginning on July 23 and finish up on September 27. The trade deadline is set for August 31, and September 15 will mark the deadline for adding players to the MLB roster for postseason eligibility.
In an effort to limit travel across the country in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams will compete against teams from their own division as well as the corresponding geographical division from the opposite league, so the Yankees will face their usual AL East foes for 10 games apiece, and another 20 games will be split up between the NL East’s Braves, Marlins, Mets, Nationals and Phillies.
Several new rule changes have also been implemented for 2020. The National League will now utilize the designated hitter to try and mitigate physical over-taxation of pitchers. Team rosters will begin with 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, then fall to 28 players for the following two weeks, and then down to 26 players through the end of the season.
Teams submitted 60-man player pools to the league on Sunday (click here to see the Yankees’ player pool) and may only field players from that group over the course of the 2020 season. The pool is made up of each club’s 40-man roster, plus 20 additional players who are under contract with the team. A three-man “taxi squad” will also travel with teams on the road to provide immediate backup in case of an injury or positive COVID test by a player.
While 30-man rosters will be in effect to start out the regular season, the other 30 members of a team’s designated player pool will be located at an alternate training site, which will likely be an affiliated minor league facility in close proximity to the MLB club’s home stadium. (More on 2020 MLB roster stipulations here).
Another rule change coming to MLB will take place in extra innings, when teams will begin each half-inning after the 9th with a runner on second base, similar to the minor league format which was adopted in 2018. That runner will be the player who made the final out of the previous inning (or a pinch-runner) and would not count as an earned run against the pitcher should he score.
The three-batter minimum rule is still in effect for relievers, who must face at least three batters or pitch until the end of a half-inning before they can be removed from the game (barring an injury/illness situation). Additionally, position players will have no restrictions on their eligibility to pitch in games, instead of only being allowed to do so in situations where their team is trailing or ahead by at least six runs, or in extra-inning games.
Players will not be permitted to spit, chew tobacco or sunflower seeds, however gum is allowed. All non-playing personnel as well as players not participating in a given game will be required to practice social distancing and sit in the stands at least six feet apart from others. Coaches and managers in the dugout and bullpen will have to wear masks at all times, and baseballs will be discarded after coming into contact with multiple players.
Pitchers will also have the use of a wet rag to moisten their fingers rather than lick them, however they must wipe their fingers dry before throwing a pitch and cannot utilize the rag while they are on the rubber.
What about COVID safety and testing protocols? Here’s how MLB plans to tackle that challenge, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand:
“Players will undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival, then begin workouts if they test negative. Players, coaches and support staff will be tested for COVID-19 every other day during training camps, the regular season and postseason. Anybody testing positive will be quarantined. Two negative tests are reportedly required for a return. Players will also receive temperature/symptom checks at least twice per day, and antibody testing will be conducted approximately once per month.”
One significant silver lining for the Yankees after the delayed start to the 2020 season will be the availability of key players like Aaron Judge (rib), Giancarlo Stanton (calf), Aaron Hicks (elbow) and James Paxton (back), all of whom will be nearly at full health or 100% ready to start the regular season in late-July.
It may have taken several rounds of negotiations and countless consultations with health and safety experts to figure out how to safely bring back MLB action this year, but all parties are charging forward with the hopes of delivering just that.
For the New York Yankees, the chase for a 28th World Series championship will get underway in less than a month.