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The minor league baseball season might be about to be cancelled

... according to one report, which was swiftly denied.

Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs
Al Yellon

Even while Major League Baseball discusses several different ideas to begin a 2020 season, it seemed clear that Minor League teams would likely not be able to play this year. MLB teams can still make money while playing in empty stadiums, because a large portion of their revenue comes from TV. Minor League teams don’t have that source of income; they need fans buying tickets to have any real source of revenue, and at this time it doesn’t appear possible for them to play.

Wednesday, Joe E. Doyle of our SB Nation site Lookout Landing reported that some agents had received information of an upcoming cancellation of the minor-league season:

According to multiple agents representing minor league players, they were informally advised Wednesday that there would not be a regular minor league season in 2020. Instead, Major League Baseball will expand rosters for a condensed big league season. There will, however, be a subsequent developmental league, training and potentially playing games out of spring training facilities.

According to two players associated with those agents, they expect to be playing baseball sooner rather than later.

“Expecting to report in the next three weeks,” one source said via text message. “We’re expecting the season to start in June.”

This all seems reasonable and somewhat logical, but after this report was published late Wednesday, there were a flurry of denials from various sources:

JJ Cooper is the executive editor of Baseball America and generally is pretty plugged-in on things of this nature. Also:

Minor League Baseball felt compelled to issue an official statement:

“The report circulating tonight that the 2020 Minor League Baseball season has been canceled is false. Minor League Baseball has confirmed with Major League Baseball that no such statement was made. No decision has been made as to when it will be safe to begin the 2020 season.”

Reading through the Lookout Landing article, the tweets from Cooper and Passan, and the MiLB statement, the conclusion I reach is: All of those things could be true. Agents might very well have received informal communications to prepare for the possible cancellation of the minor-league season and for the “developmental league” plan mentioned. But no official decision has been made regarding cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season.

As I have noted previously (links in the first paragraph of this article), it seems extremely unlikely for Major League Baseball to be able to play games in empty stadiums in teams’ home cities this year. Even if (for example) Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave clearance for the Cubs and White Sox to play, the state and city of New York might not be ready at the same time. And what of playing games in Toronto? Restrictions might be different in Canada, or in many of the 17 states (plus D.C.) in which Major League Baseball is played.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a recent interview that the idea of playing only in a couple of locations might be best:

I’m not saying this is the way to go, but you want to at least consider having players, if they’re going to play, play in front of a TV camera without people in the audience. And then test all the players and make sure they’re negative and keep them in a place where they don’t have contact with anybody on the outside who you don’t know whether they’re positive or negative.

That’s going to be logistically difficult, but there’s at least the possibility of doing that. In other words, we said that for baseball, get the players in Major League Baseball, get a couple of cities and a couple of hotels, get them tested and keep them segregated. I know it’s going to be difficult for them not to be out in society, but that may be the price you pay if you want to play ball.

I continue to believe that the best way to have any sort of MLB season in 2020 is either the so-called “Arizona Bubble League” or the “Cactus/Grapefruit League.” Both ideas have issues of their own, from weather to time zones to the players not wanting to be sequestered for months at a time. But those might be the only way to do it.

It is true that cities and states are beginning to open up, but just yesterday Dr. Fauci warned of a second wave of the novel coronavirus in the fall and winter if proper “countermeasures” aren’t taken now.

So if Major League Baseball is making tentative plans now, perhaps they revisit them in a couple of weeks, to see how things are progressing. At that time, maybe we get further clarification about what’s going to happen to the Minor League Baseball season. Whatever happens with MLB, it does seem increasingly unlikely that MiLB will play in its usual form in 2020.