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What will a 2020 Cubs season look like if players and owners come to an agreement?

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One thing is for certain: The season will look like none we have ever known.

Photo by @WillByington / www.willbyington.com

MLB players and owners are still locked in a dispute which threatens a 2020 baseball season. It’s over money, primarily, though there are also health and safety concerns.

My purpose here is not to rehash that. There will be plenty of time for that when there’s more news made about it.

Today, I want to look at what a Chicago Cubs season might look like, if we actually have a season that starts around the beginning of July.

At The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma took a look at some of the things that will have to be settled before baseball begins, and what we might see once it does.

First, the Cubs would likely have “Spring Training 2.0” at Wrigley Field. The city of Chicago would likely have to do something to shut down the streets surrounding the ballpark, because even with no fans allowed, people would probably want to gather around Wrigley just to be near any sort of Cubs baseball. This obviously isn’t optimal. I have heard that discussions and plans about this are happening, but I have no details to share at this time. Regarding possible “exhibition games,” Sharma says:

The hope is to have a few games toward the end of spring training — it would make sense for the Cubs to face the White Sox or Brewers — but other than that, intrasquad contests will be the next closest thing to spring training games. There are certain activities that happen in-game — notably the intensity at which the players are playing and the explosive movements that occur on the field — that are difficult to replicate in workouts.

As I wrote here last week, MLB is considering having teams set up a 30-man roster and 20-man ”taxi squad.” But how would the “taxi squad” players stay in game shape? From Sharma’s article:

The location for the taxi squad is also up for debate. The goal is to limit air travel, so having those players in Mesa makes little sense. However, packing more players into Wrigley Field leads to issues of trying to adhere to safety guidelines. Finding another option for workouts in the Chicagoland area would make more sense.

There are college fields in the Chicago area, including at Northwestern and UIC, which could be useful for this purpose.

Sharma’s article also mentions the proposed 82-game schedule, in which teams would play only those in their division and the corresponding division in the other league. While no specific split of that schedule has been announced yet, the most likely one would have teams play those in their own division 13 times (52 games) and those in the opposing league’s division six times (30 games). Sharma suggests:

Though it’s unlikely the Cubs will be making bus trips much longer than three hours, they could be avoiding planes for certain trips in which they normally would have flown. Milwaukee and the South Side of Chicago have always been relatively quick drives, but it’s not out of the question that perhaps a flight to Detroit could then lead to a drive to Cleveland followed by another to Pittsburgh, if the schedule lines up conveniently.

Sounds logical, and I also wanted to call your attention to Dan Szymborski’s Fangraphs article from earlier this month in which he projected records for teams based on this 82-game schedule by his ZiPS system. He’s got the Cubs winning the NL Central — but only by one game, with a 45-37 record. The Brewers are projected second at 44-38 and the Reds and Cardinals tied for third at 44-39. No doubt, those four teams could put together a very competitive race in an 82-game season. It’s also worth pointing out that between the NL Central and AL Central, there are three really bad teams, the Pirates, Royals and Tigers. This could allow the contending teams in those divisions to win a few more games than that.

Now isn’t it nice to think about how the Cubs could do in actual competition this year?

Lastly, I wanted to again mention the idea of fans in ballparks. Paul Sullivan of the Tribune noted this in a Sunday article:

Some insiders believe about 70% of teams will be allowed to have fans in their stadiums by mid-July or early August because of to more lax restrictions from their local governments. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, for instance, approved an order Thursday allowing outdoor sports facilities to operate at 25% capacity. Less permissive states, such as Illinois, New York and California, might be among the last to allow fans. Teams must receive approval from government officials to allow fans, and many have begun working on plans with their governors.

I’m going to repeat here something I’ve mentioned numerous times. I do not see fans in ballparks at all until there is a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, and in practice that likely means 2021. Further, even if some states do permit fans in the stands, it would be a distinct competitive advantage for any team that did allow that, while others don’t. MLB is very likely going to have an “all or none” policy on fans this year, much as some owners would like the revenue from attendance. Further, per this ESPN.com article, the Texas governor’s permission for outdoor sports facilities to “operate at 25% capacity” does not apply to Globe Life Field and Minute Maid Park, homes of the Rangers and Astros:

Abbott’s order, however, may not impact the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros because “stadiums with retractable roofs are not considered to be outdoors,” health department spokeswoman Lara Anton said.

Both those ballparks have retractable roofs; Globe Life Field, new home of the Rangers, has yet to host a baseball game.

Sullivan’s article also mentions the possibility of fans on the rooftops across from Wrigley Field. I can’t see this happening either, as we are not yet in the phase in Illinois where gatherings of more than 50 people would be allowed, and any rooftop crowd (plus staff) would almost certainly be more than 50.

The bottom line is that there are still a lot of things that must be decided and agreed to before we hear “Play ball!” at a major-league park. I continue to hope we’ll get there. As always, we await developments.