Will MLB cancel the 2020 season? Breaking down possible next steps after Marlins coronavirus outbreak

And it has come to the inevitable.

The Marlins are facing a COVID-19 outbreak in their clubhouse, according to multiple reports, with 11 of 33 position players (roster and taxi squad) testing positive for the coronavirus. After the Marlins’ home opener against the Orioles was banged on Monday, the Yankees vs. Phillies matchup in Philadelphia — where the Marlins had just been over the weekend — was canned, as well.

This leads to more harrowing questions. Will the MLB season go on as planned?

MORE: MLB’s coronavirus rules, explained

According to Craig Mish, the 2020 season is reportedly “in jeopardy” following the report that Marlins players and personnel tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend.

Under MLB’s agreement to play the 2020 season, Rob Manfred has the power to cancel and/or suspend the season for fear of coronavirus outbreaks. Considering the Marlins played with four positive tests over the weekend, traveled to Philadelphia and there’s no plan of action following an outbreak, MLB and Manfred are in a very precarious position as to where to go next.

There are some options:

Is baseball canceled in 2020?

At this point, no official word has come down, but the season could be teetering on the brink of cancellation or suspension. According to reports, MLB is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss its next course of action.

There are a few routes commissioner Rob Manfred could go:

1. Suspend the season. Manfred has the ability to put the season on hold to try to figure out what they’re doing right and wrong to try to settle the ship before jumping it. While logic might dictate that a suspension will only lead to a cancellation, there are too many dominos potentially ready to tip and fall: the Marlins heading to Philadelphia, the visiting clubhouse already reportedly fumigated and the Yankees vs. Phillies matchup on the shelf for the time being.

2. Keep playing. Manfred can also say “Play On” and ask the Marlins to lean on guys from their alternate site to take the spots of infected players.

There’s a reason, after all, that MLB asked teams to construct 60-man player pools in advance of the season: in case something like the Marlins situation actually happened. While it remains to be seen what MLB and the Marlins will do, it’s an option.

3. The nuclear option. A cancellation of the MLB season is certainly on the table. It would be the nuclear option — flip the switch, pull the plug and call it a day on trying to play baseball in 2020 and hope that everything is under control come the 2021 season. It would be the most drastic, but if MLB can’t figure out its stuff, then it might be the only route to take.

Why MLB didn’t do a ‘bubble’ like NBA, NHL

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere but not a drop to … be spared for MLB, apparently.

Early in MLB’s negotiations to return to play, the league was mulling playing games at a hub site, with Arizona a potential destination. The Arizona plan saw as many as 14 different stadiums used in the greater Phoenix area to house players for the duration of a shortened season. At that point, cases in Arizona were on the rise, but it wasn’t until June when cases in the state blew up. The players, justifiably citing an unfair cut in wages, decided to pass on the Arizona plan.

As negotiations progressed, the bubble scenario was cast by the wayside in favor of teams traveling at a shortened rate, playing schedules vs. their division and geographic division rivals, which is what MLB decided to settle on for the 2020 season.

As it stands, the NBA is scheduled to return to play in a “bubble” scenario, with 22 teams housed in Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where subjects can be closely monitored and the playing environment siphoned off from the outside world. The NHL will resume play in hub cities in Canada in August, where the chase for the Stanley Cup will continue in Toronto and Edmonton.

Earlier in July, Sporting News spoke with Dr. Scott Weisenberg, an infectious disease specialist, about the challenges that MLB faces whilst not in a bubble:

I think having a bubble gives you a more controllable environment. Like I said, as long as there’s widespread disease in many communities around the United States, other family members, or the players themselves if they do go out, are going to be at risk of picking up the disease from their community and then bringing it back into the baseball community. So it’s really going to depend on what happens everywhere else.

Hopefully, we start seeing a decrease in community spread within the next couple of weeks, through all of the progressive public health measures, like what happened in New York. The less disease in the community, the less risk there’s going to be a player’s bringing it back into the baseball community. Otherwise, it will be very difficult. 

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