The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on baseball last year, but MLB brass are trying to ensure a repeat doesn’t happen.  To help counter any threat from the virus, the league is going to make a few changes; however, MLB players and staff still need to be hypervigilant about the possibility of another outbreak.  In an attempt to try to lower the odds of a catastrophe, MLB has announced that it will allow alternate sites for teams, which is going to affect Triple-A ball.

MLB Allows Alternate Training Sites

The use of alternate sites was seen last year as a way to lower the possibilities of a COVID-19 outbreak.  Teams will use the sites as training facilities for those minor league players who might be called up to appear in a major league game.  MLB EVP of Baseball Operations Morgan Sword explained in a statement, “This is a prudent step to complete the major league and minor league seasons as safely as possible, and we look forward to having fans back in ballparks across the country very soon.”

This change won’t impact the MLB schedule, with Opening Day still on for April 1.  However, it forces a change to Triple-A’s calendar, moving the start of the highest level of minor league baseball back a month.  This puts it at around the first week of May, which is when Double-A and Class A are expected to start, as well.

Initially, the alternate sites are expected to be used just until the start of the Triple-A season, although that could change.  Depending on what happens with the coronavirus and MLB, some team executives believe the sites could be used well into the season.  The delay of approximately one month for Triple-A and the use of the alternate sites gives teams more ability to provide testing and vaccinations as MLB makes a concerted effort to prevent a recurrence of last year’s health issues.

Positive COVID-19 Cases Down

Across the US, and the world, the number of positive COVID-19 cases has dropped, and MLB has seen improvements, as well.  With Spring Training games now underway, there hasn’t been a significant number of positive cases seen, despite ongoing and continuous testing.  When the season officially got started last month, over 20,000 tests were administered, and there were only 20 positive cases found.

The improvement doesn’t mean that MLB can relax, as there is still a difficult road ahead.  April could set the stage for the rest of the season, but players want to push forward.  MLB executives had tried to get players to a one-month delay to the start of the season, but this was rejected immediately.  However, since MLB now controls the minor leagues, it can push back the start of the season without requiring anyone’s input.

Some Players Still Concerned

Even though there has been a lot of improvement in combatting the coronavirus, with some reports indicating as much as a 20% global drop, there are plenty of people who are still concerned about MLB’s ability to control a new outbreak.  Among these is Mike Leake, a free-agent pitcher looking for a new home.  He opted out of last year’s season over COVID-19 concerns and, when the Arizona Diamondbacks declined his $18-million option last October to continue with the team, he was left empty-handed.

Leake has reportedly turned down several pitching offers from clubs, but is still holding out.  According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, he refuses to take the mound until the coronavirus is under control, despite the overwhelming support for guidelines proven to prevent the virus from spreading.  The 33-year-old might miss another season completely as he holds out and could potentially find difficulty next year if he tries to find a team willing to take a chance on a 34-year-old righty who was absent from baseball for two years.