The Major League Baseball season that begins on Thursday will look a whole lot different from the one teams planned for in spring training. Back then, in March, teams were preparing for business as usual: a 162-game schedule, fans in the stands, the pitcher hitting in National League parks — and if you were signed to play, you had to play.
The coronavirus had other ideas, of course. Now, after months of failed negotiations between the league and the players’ union to agree to terms of a new season, teams will play just 60 games each, without fans (at least initially), with a universal designated hitter and with several familiar names opting out of the season.
All these factors will impact each team differently — in good and bad ways. Here’s a look at the upside and downside of a delayed, shortened season for all 30.
American League East
Upside: At least it will all be over quickly for the Orioles, who lost 223 games the last two seasons.
Downside: The 1939 St. Louis Browns had a .279 winning percentage, the worst in the history of this franchise. The Orioles need 17 wins this year to avoid a new low. Can they do it while facing only the punishing Eastern division teams in the American and National Leagues?
Boston Red Sox
Upside: Hooray for social distancing! The players get a respite from the cramped Fenway clubhouse this season, lockering in third-level luxury suites, two to a room.
Downside: No venue in sports combines gritty authenticity with charming eccentricity like Fenway. Millions of fans will miss out on that experience this season, and while the intimacy with fans at the park is not always comfortable for players, chances are they will miss it, too.
New York Yankees
Upside: The Yankees were battered by injuries when they shuttered spring training in mid-March, and now Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and James Paxton should be ready.
Downside: Two of the more prominent Yankees — Aroldis Chapman and D.J. LeMahieu — have missed parts of summer camp after positive tests for the coronavirus, and their new ace, Gerrit Cole, probably won’t have time to break Ron Guidry’s 42-year-old franchise single-season strikeout record of 248. (Probably.)
Tampa Bay Rays
Upside: Few teams are as skilled as the Rays at finding useful, solid players throughout their roster. In a 60-game sprint with only two off days until Sept. 3, that depth will be critical.
Downside: The summer’s surge in coronavirus cases in Florida would seem to especially imperil the Rays and the Miami Marlins, making it critical for their players and staff members to adhere to baseball’s safety protocols — and hope for the best.
Toronto Blue Jays
Upside: The Jays are not yet built to contend across 162 games. But it’s no stretch to think that their dynamic young offense could sizzle for 60 games, and a rotation fortified by the acquisitions of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson over the off-season could keep them in enough games to contend.
Downside: Barring a reversal, the Canadian federal government’s decision barring the Blue Jays from playing in Toronto will make this the first year since 1968 without a M.L.B. game in Canada.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox
Upside: Shortstop Tim Anderson hit .354 in his final 60 games last season to capture his first batting title. Could he flirt with .400?
Downside: Hard-throwing starter Michael Kopech, who underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2018 after just four games in the majors, opted out of the 2020 season.
Upside: Mike Clevinger, who teams up with fellow right-hander Shane Bieber for a dominant top of the rotation, is healthy after having knee surgery in spring training.
Downside: It’s never fun to miss 100 games or so of Francisco Lindor at his peak. Lindor, a dazzling, switch-hitting shortstop, is eligible for free agency after 2021, so Cleveland’s time with their cornerstone might be dwindling.
Upside: The slugging infielder Spencer Torkelson, chosen first over all from Arizona State in last month’s draft, has spent considerable time around the major league team as part of the Tigers’ training camp pool. So has starter Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in 2018.
Downside: With 477 career home runs, Miguel Cabrera might have reached 500 this season with a normal schedule. (Luckily for him, he’s signed through 2023.)
Kansas City Royals
Upside: After Tommy John surgery in 2019 and Covid-19 this summer, catcher Salvador Perez is finally back. Baseball is always better with Perez, the effervescent six-time All-Star, behind the plate.
Downside: The Royals have drafted four college starters in the first round since their 2015 title — Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Brady Singer — and the absence of a minor league season costs them valuable development time.
Upside: The Twins are counting on two 40-year-olds to help them repeat as division champions: starter Rich Hill, who is coming off elbow surgery, and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who hit 41 homer runs last season. At their age, less is more.
Downside: Starter Michael Pineda must still serve 36 games of his suspension from last season, when he tested positive for a banned diuretic. That means Pineda will miss 60 percent of the Twins’ schedule — far more than the 22 percent he would have missed across 162 games.
American League West
Upside: No team will be happier to see empty stands on the road than the Astros, who will be spared the wrath of hecklers ridiculing them after the sign-stealing scheme that helped them beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series was exposed this winter.
Downside: Dusty Baker is baseball’s oldest manager, at 71, and his most trusted coach, Chris Speier, is 70. The Astros also have the majors’ oldest pitching coach, Brent Strom, who is 71. As baseball returns in the pandemic, they are among the more at-risk people in uniform.
Los Angeles Angels
Upside: A shorter season means less time for the Angels’ annual parade of pitching injuries. Their rotation is shaky beyond the two-way star Shohei Ohtani, but with the addition of Anthony Rendon, perhaps the offense can give this team a chance.
Downside: By rejecting the owners’ final proposal to restart the season, the union also shot down the expanded playoff format, retaining it as a bargaining chip for future negotiations. A savvy move, perhaps, but it’s little consolation for the game’s best player, Mike Trout, who has played in only three postseason games in his career since debuting in 2011.
Upside: The always-creative A’s came up with a fun way to engage fans: If you buy a cardboard cutout of yourself at the Coliseum and a foul ball hits it, the team will send you the ball.
Downside: The A’s have reached the playoffs as a wild-card team in each of the last two seasons, but they had to rally after mediocre starts: 31-29 in 2018 and 30-30 last year. They’ll need to start faster this time.
Upside: The top prospect Jarred Kelenic — who seems destined to haunt the Mets for trading him in the Robinson Cano deal — belted two homers in an intrasquad game in Seattle during summer training. Kelenic, who was born the day after the Mariners opened their ballpark in 1999, should soon get his chance.
Downside: After a roster purge and a last-place finish, the Mariners, who have not made the playoffs since 2001, could have used a full schedule this year to learn more about which players could be long-term answers.
Upside: The veteran outfielder Shin-Soo Choo set a powerful example during the pandemic by giving $1,000 to every Rangers minor leaguer (around $200,000 in all).
Downside: The Rangers, who have furloughed more than 10 percent of their full-time employees, will finally open Globe Life Field on July 24 against Colorado — with the stands empty. You might call that raining on their parade, but the new park has a retractable roof.
National League East
Upside: Kudos to Freddie Freeman, the star first baseman, for sharing his experience with Covid-19 and sending a powerful message to his fellow players of how serious the virus can be. “I said a little prayer that night because I’ve never been that hot before,” Freeman told reporters, referring to the worst moment of his illness. “My body was really, really hot, so I said, ‘Please don’t take me.’ I wasn’t ready.”
Downside: Freeman has returned, but his experience helped convince the veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to opt out and avoid the risk. Also, starter Cole Hamels recently aggravated the triceps injury that bothered him in spring training and does not seem close to returning.
Upside: Playing home games before empty seats will be nothing new for the Marlins, who have had the lowest attendance in the National League in 13 of the last 14 seasons.
Downside: The Marlins — with chief executive Derek Jeter and Manager Don Mattingly — finish their schedule with a three-game series in the Bronx from Sept. 25 to 27. It would be a perfect setting for the fans to salute two former Yankee captains (if Jeter travels), but barring a change in policy, the stands will be empty.
Upside: The addition of a designated hitter gives them an ideal spot for the prodigal slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who returns from a two-year absence because of heel and ankle injuries.
Downside: They’ve had a losing record through the first 60 games in each of the last three seasons, and there’s no learning curve for the rookie manager Luis Rojas.
Upside: The Phillies have gotten only league-average performances from Jake Arrieta, a former Cy Young Award winner who enters the final season of his three-year, $75 million contract. At 34 — after knee surgery in 2018 and elbow surgery last year — Arrieta could benefit from a shorter schedule.
Downside: The Phillies were trying to sign the All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension in spring training, then talks went cold during the pandemic. Free agency beckons in the fall.
Upside: No group of postseason starters has ever had more rest before the next opening day than Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, who combined for 89 ⅔ innings last October to lead Washington to its first championship.
Downside: The Nats became the first team ever to win a title while losing all their World Series home games, and now they can’t even bask in the afterglow with their fans. This will also be their first season ever without longtime infielder Ryan Zimmerman, who opted out.
Upside: Yu Darvish used the downtime to do what he does best: He invented a new pitch, “the Supreme,” a splitter/two-seam hybrid that veers down and in to right-handed hitters. It will be the 11th pitch in Darvish’s arsenal, matching his uniform number.
Downside: The seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field won’t be the same without fans singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” As the song says … it’s a shame.
Upside: The Reds will play 14 of their first 25 games against the lowly Tigers, Royals and Pirates, giving their imposing rotation — fronted by Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer — a chance to start the season right.
Downside: Manager David Bell racked up eight ejections through the end of July last season, but he kept his cool thereafter. For Bell to preserve his feisty reputation, he’ll need to find some late-summer fury — though he would be violating social-distancing protocols if he gets too close to the umpires.
Upside: The Brewers will travel the fewest miles of any team this season — 3,962, according to MLB Advanced Media. (The Texas Rangers will have the most travel: 14,706 miles.)
Downside: Manager Craig Counsell has been a master of using expanded rosters in September, guiding the Brewers to the playoffs by going 20-7 after Aug. 31 in both 2018 and 2019. This year, though, rosters will shrink as the season goes on. Teams will have 30 active players at the start, but must reduce rosters to 28 after two weeks and then contract to 26 after another two weeks.
Upside: A shorter season means fewer opportunities for fans to be frustrated by the exploits of the former Pirates Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow, all top starters in the A.L. East.
Downside: The rebuilding Pirates were mostly quiet last winter, and their players could have spent the last four months building trade value. With this season’s trading deadline on Aug. 31, the Pirates have much less time to add pieces for the future.
St. Louis Cardinals
Upside: The pandemic canceled the Cardinals’ trip to London for a series with the Cubs, but it gives them a chance to play in Dyersville, Iowa. They’ll replace the Yankees as the visitors against the Chicago White Sox at the “Field of Dreams” site on Aug. 13.
Downside: The Cardinals never knew quite how to use Jose Martinez, a poor defender but a talented hitter with a .298 career average and a 7-for-13 performance in the playoffs last fall. The D.H. spot would have been ideal, but the Cardinals traded Martinez to Tampa Bay in January, before the N.L. adopted the D.H. for 2020.
National League West
Upside: If ever there was an athlete who needed time with family, it was the new Diamondbacks outfielder Starling Marte, who lost his wife, Noelia, to a heart attack in May. Marte told Arizona reporters last week that he initially contemplated retirement. “I’m very happy to be back, especially with my kids,” Marte said last week. “And obviously it’s been a very tough time for us, but through God and being able to speak with a couple of pastors and priests at our church, they’ve been able to help me through this process.”
Downside: Pitcher Madison Bumgarner has 19 career homers, connecting twice apiece off Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Alas, with the D.H. in the N.L. this season, Arizona’s new ace probably won’t get to swing for the fences.
Upside: Daniel Bard, 35, earned a roster spot with a strong summer training camp. Bard, once a dominant reliever for Boston, has not pitched in the majors since 2013 after struggling with the yips — shorthand for a mental block from throwing — and serving as the Diamondbacks’ mental skills coach the last two seasons.
Downside: Rockies fans must wait another year to see one of their own in Cooperstown, N.Y. The pandemic forced the Hall of Fame to postpone the ceremony for this year’s inductees, including Larry Walker — the first Hall of Famer to play for Colorado.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Upside: The Astros were not on the Dodgers’ original 2020 schedule, but the new version matches them up twice: in Houston on July 28 and 29, and in Los Angeles on Sept. 12 and 13. Even without fans, those games — a rematch of the 2017 World Series — should be charged with emotion.
Downside: The Dodgers made the blockbuster deal of the winter, acquiring outfielder Mookie Betts and starter David Price from the Red Sox. Now they have Betts for just 60 games before free agency, and Price opted out of the season.
San Diego Padres
Upside: The Padres spent lavishly for the free agents Eric Hosmer in 2018 and Manny Machado last year. They’ve traded for dynamic young players like pitcher Chris Paddack and infielder Fernando Tatis Jr. — both of whom debuted last year — added a force last winter in outfielder Tommy Pham and built a strong bullpen. They can’t match the Dodgers for depth, but in a 60-game sprint, they’re talented enough to have a chance.
Downside: The Padres spent 29 years in the sartorial wilderness until last November, when they finally brought back their classic brown-and-yellow colors on a full-time basis. Those of us who clamored for the change have been waiting impatiently to see it for real.
San Francisco Giants
Upside: Buster Posey set a noble example in opting out of the 2020 season. Posey, the Giants’ longtime catcher, chose to be with his family after adopting newborn twin daughters with weakened immune systems who need time in neonatal intensive care.
Downside: Posey’s absence reinforces just how far the Giants have fallen since winning three titles from 2010 through 2014. The other main pillars of those teams — Manager Bruce Bochy and starter Madison Bumgarner — departed after last season, leaving Pablo Sandoval, after a detour to Boston, as the only active Giant who played in all three World Series. (On the plus side, maybe Sandoval will get to pitch again.)