PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The MLB season remains on indefinite hiatus as the nation fights the coronavirus pandemic. And the current mid-May target starting date grows increasingly unlikely with every passing day. But the League continues to brainstorm various scenarios to stage some semblance of a 2020 season. Discussion of an Arizona alternative has heated up recently. The thinking, still in its early stages, is that teams would be sequestered in Arizona, where they would play the season on spring training fields and at the Diamondbacks home stadium without fans.
KDKA’s sports director Bob Pompeani finds this approach intriguing though potentially a little too ambitious. As Pompeani summarizes, “they go through a two-week quarantine. Get tested. If they’re fine, they play.”
It seems straightforward enough on the surface, but would surely create logistical nightmares. “These guys haven’t played now since training camp ended,” Pompeani points out. “They’re going to need a little mini training camp to start this whole thing, in addition to a quarantine and all the stuff that comes with this, especially in Arizona. If you’re going to put people together in a hotel room and keep them there for months, I don’t know how that works. It gets to be 150 degrees there in the middle of summer. How are you going to play baseball games like that? So I’m not sure where that goes.”
This approach faces other logistical hurdles beyond game preparation and the weather. Everyone involved, from players to team staff to grounds crew, would need testing. That could mean upwards of 20,000 tests per month in a state that’s only administered about 33,000 tests so far. Players would need to be separated from their families for months on end.
The Arizona plan also assumes that the country will have a far better handle on the coronavirus than it currently does, which is far from a given. The number of cases continues to grow in many major league markets. Allegheny County currently has over 700 cases. Pennsylvania, which just canceled school for the remainder of the academic year, has yet to reach its peak. New York, the nation’s epicenter for the virus, is only beginning to see a flattening of the curve.
What do all these delays mean for the Pittsburgh Pirates? “I think it can help them if it’s a shorter year, because some of the teams that are expected to be really good might be off their game,” says Pompeani. “Over [the course of] 162 [games], normally the cream rises. You get the best teams. Last year, the Pirates, at the All-Star break halfway through the season, were actually in contention. They made a trade, and then they tanked. You can see that, over 75 or 80 games, they could actually be in contention, just because it’s not going to be 162. If they don’t play an entire 162, I think all bets are off. And teams you wouldn’t have expected to contend, could very well contend. And that would include the Pirates.”
The Pirates would not be contenders in a full MLB season. They won 69 games in 2019 and finished last in the National League Central, 22 games behind the division-winning St. Louis Cardinals. The offseason wasn’t terribly productive for a team still very much still in the process of rebuilding.
A few key players will be worth watching once the Pirates return to action. Josh Bell emerged as legitimate power hitter, hitting 37 home runs and 116 RBI while slashing .277/.367.569, all improvements on the previous season. He remains a defensive liability at first base, however. Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds both hit better than .300.
While similar production in a shortened season will be helpful, particularly if young players like Newman and Reynolds continue to grow, it won’t make up for poor pitching. And the Pirates’ projected rotation simply isn’t very good. Joe Musgrove went 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA last season. The remaining likely starters — Trevor Williams, Steven Brault and Chris Archer — all turned in ERAs above five. Williams also seemed to struggle in spring training this year, though Archer had some success after a brutal, injury-filled 2019 campaign. Brault, who just released an album of show tunes, also hopes to sing a different tune when/if the 2020 season commences.