MINNEAPOLIS - It appears we might have a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to Major League Baseball having a season in 2020.
Negotiations between the players and owners have gotten ugly at times, and nobody will claim to be a winner at the end. But MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred initiated on Monday orders for a 60-game season, the shortest since 1878, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and failed labor negotiations for about a month. The MLB Players' Association has agreed to report to Spring Training by July 1 and play a 60-game season.
MLB shut down all Spring Training activities on March 12 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Players were ordered to leave facilities in Arizona and Florida, and many went home into full quarantine mode.
Players and owners have been going back and forth for the last month arguing about prorated salaries, among other things, to get a shortened season started. The MLBPA held a conference call Tuesday and agreed to go ahead with a 60-game season. If either side would've filed a grievance against the other for not acting in good faith, the baseball season would have been in jeopardy.
If things come together and we do have a 2020 season, what does it mean for the Minnesota Twins? Here’s a look.
How Spring Training would work
Manfred asked players for answers by Tuesday afternoon if they can report to Spring Training within seven days, and if there is an agreement on baseball operations, including health and safety protocols for COVID-19 concerns. Twins’ players would report to Target Field on or around July 1 for Spring Training. The anticipated start for the season is in the July 24-26 window.
That leaves three weeks, assuming players report July 1, for pitchers and position players to get ready for a 60-game season. Most players have been working out on their own, throwing and hitting, and likely wouldn't need a lot of time to be ready for live games. Spring Training 2.0 would emphasize facing live pitching, situational play and starting pitchers building up their arms.
What the Twins schedule might look like
We know the Twins will face the other teams in the American League Central Division: The White Sox, Royals, Tigers and Indians. What we don’t know yet is which other teams they might play. The most logical and realistic idea that’s been posed in negotiations is to play National League teams from the same division. That would mean the Twins would face the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. It allows the Twins to play a more complete schedule, while also limiting travel and potential exposure to COVID-19.
It's set up that should bode well for the Twins, who won 101 games for their first division title since 2010 last season. Rocco Baldelli also won AL Manager of the Year in his inaugural season. The only other AL Central team to finish above .500 last season was the Indians, who won 93 games and missed the playoffs. The NL Central was more competitive, with three of the teams finishing above .500. The Cardinals took the division title with 91 wins, the Brewers were a Wild Card playoff team with 89 wins and the Cubs won 84 games.
What about Michael Pineda?
The status of Michael Pineda has been one of the biggest Twins’ talkers of the off-season. He missed the last month after being suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. It was a diuretic he used to maintain his weight and blood pressure. Until that point, he was 11-5 on the season in 26 starts with a 4.01 earned run average, 140 strikeouts and just 28 walks in 146 innings. He was the pleasant surprise of the Twins’ rotation.
Pineda had 39 games left on his suspension heading into 2020. With the potential of a 60-game season on the horizon, that suspension would have to be adjusted.
Will Byron Buxton be ready?
Byron Buxton played 87 games last year and missed the last month, including the playoffs, after suffering a shoulder injury following a crash into a wall against the Miami Marlins. Buxton hit .262 with 30 doubles, four triples and 10 homers last season. More importantly, he was a defensive star in center field with his speed and ability to cover the outfield. He was on track to be ready to play near the original Opening Day, and was spotted in video on social media hitting off a tee in late March.
We would expect Buxton to be ready to start in center field if the season starts in late July.
How the season, playoffs look
A schedule has yet to be finalized, but the Twins and other MLB teams would start between July 24-26. Home games would be played at Target Field, but likely without any fans in attendance. Both leagues are likely to use a designated hitter for the 2020 season. There was talk to expand the playoffs from 10 to 16 teams both this season and next, but at this point it appears it will be 10 teams unless talks change. That means the four division champions, and two Wild Card teams like normal. It would be in the Twins’ best interest get off to a fast start and repeat as AL Central champions, which would earn them a home playoff series.
Twins fans are clamoring for baseball, coming off that division title and signing star third baseman Josh Donaldson in free agency. Fans may have to watch games on a TV from their couches, but it’s better than no baseball at all.