When major league and minor league teams announced their 2021 schedules, there was always one big caveat. Major League Baseball told minor league teams that the commissioner’s office would inform teams by March 15 whether the Triple-A season could start on schedule in April.
A little less than two weeks before that deadline, Triple-A teams learned on Tuesday night (March 2) that they will have to wait another month. MLB has canceled the first month of the Triple-A season because of continuing concerns from the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, the Triple-A season will begin on May 4 (Triple-A East) and May 6 (Triple-A West). That cuts 24 games from each season. The new schedule eliminates the two-day break around the MLB all-star game, so the new schedules are set for 120 games with 10 home series (six games each) and 10 road series. Triple-A East will end on Sept. 19 while Triple-A West will end on Sept. 21.
The news that Triple-A’s season would be delayed was first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
In the memo to minor league teams, MLB told them that those April games are canceled. It does remain possible that additional games could be added to extend the season a little beyond the currently scheduled end, but no decisions on that have been made.
Instead of having games in April, MLB teams will set up alternate training sites, some of which will be at the sites of Triple-A teams. Lehigh Valley, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, has already announced that it will serve as an alternate training site.
The decision to delay the start of the Triple-A season largely came about because of the difficulties of blending Triple-A travel with the reality that players frequently move back and forth from Triple-A to the majors and vice versa.
At the MLB level, teams travel entirely by charter. At the Triple-A level, bus trips are by charter, but all flights are commercial. MLB’s Covid-19 protocols are quite strict in ensuring that MLB players do not cross paths with the general public to reduce risk of a coronavirus outbreak.
But those protocols cannot apply to a Triple-A player brought up from the minors—in many cases those players will have flown commercially in the past week.
By switching to alternate sites, teams will be able to keep their pool of potential call-ups under similar coronavirus protocols to the MLB team.
The hope for MLB and minor league teams is that the coronavirus vaccines will become much more widely available to the general public in April. If that happens and players can get vaccinated, the concerns about bringing players up from Triple-A would dissipate.
The travel issue is not nearly as difficult for Double-A and Class A. Those leagues are almost entirely bus leagues, which means that players travel by charter.
Players at the alternate site will be paid their normal in-season salary, so a player on a split MLB/MiLB contract will be paid their Triple-A salary. Players on minor league contracts will be paid as if they were in Triple-A.