News Analysis: Western coronavirus spike could threaten MLB regional plan

Crews prepare Dodger Stadium before the opening-day game on April 6.
(Bill Shaikin / Los Angeles Times)

A spike in coronavirus cases in the West and Southwest could threaten the viability of the regional alignment proposed for the 2020 baseball season.

In order to minimize travel for the coronavirus-delayed season, major league owners and players have agreed to mandate that teams play exclusively within one of three regions during the regular season.

However, of the 10 teams that would be grouped in the West region, nine play their home games in a state in which newly reported coronavirus cases have jumped by more than 10% in the last two weeks, according to a Times analysis.


Those nine teams include the five in California, the two in Texas, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Seattle Mariners. The Colorado Rockies are the only team in the Western region based in a state where cases are declining.

Major League Baseball’s offer to the union Friday calls for a 72-game season and for players to be paid 70% of their full prorated salaries.

It is too soon to determine what the spread of the virus might be like in those states come mid-July, the target for the start of the season. The owners have proposed that Commissioner Rob Manfred be allowed to move games to “neutral sites, Spring Training sites, or other clubs’ home ballparks.”

The owners also have proposed that Manfred be authorized to suspend or cancel the season if he determines, after consultation with health experts, that continued play “poses an unreasonable health and safety risk to players or staff … even in empty ballparks.”

Under a March 26 agreement between the commissioner’s office and the players’ union, players would not be paid for games lost to suspension or cancellation.

In Houston, the county’s highest-ranking executive said a field hospital could be opened at NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans, and a lockdown could be reimposed.

“We may be approaching the precipice of a disaster,” Harris County executive Lina Hidalgo said.

In Arizona, the state’s health director ordered hospitals to “fully activate” emergency plans.

With cases surging in more than 20 states, there is no clear divide between states that reopened early and those that took more time.

In California, the number of new cases set a record high Friday. In Los Angeles County, the number of new cases set a record high Thursday. In Orange County, the chief health officer resigned after threats in the wake of her order for residents to wear masks in public; the order was then rescinded.

The commissioner’s office floated the concept of isolating players in a bubble this season, but backed off after such stars as Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout resisted. The current health and safety protocol would provide for frequent testing but would simply ask — rather than require — players to confine themselves to homes and hotels when not at the ballpark.

The New York Post reported one unidentified player had tested positive for the coronavirus. One major league executive told the Athletic: “I’m confident we’re going to get this season started. Whether we finish, I have no idea.”