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Northwest League announces indefinite delay to start of 2020 season

UPDATED: Fri., June 12, 2020

With its scheduled opening day looming next week, the Northwest League issued a statement on Friday officially – and indefinitely – delaying the start of its season.

The announcement was a formality, as none of its member teams, including the Spokane Indians, has been assigned players by their parent MLB clubs yet.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the start of the 2020 Northwest League season is being delayed indefinitely,” the news release stated.

“The League and its clubs will continue to monitor the situation and work with our Major League Baseball affiliates, while following the recommendations of public health officials and adhering to local reopening guidelines. As always, the health and safety of the Northwest League fans, players and staff members is our top priority. Additionally, the Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game has been canceled.”

In response to the NWL’s announcement, the Indians released the following statement:

“We understand and support the decision to postpone the start of the 2020 season announced by the Northwest League today. The health and safety of Indians fans, players, staff, and the Inland Northwest community has always been the top priority. Unfortunately, the Indians do not have any further information beyond what the Northwest League has announced at this time. Any additional updates on the 2020 season will be provided to fans and community members as they become available.”

The other short-season Class A league, the New York-Penn League, and the Rookie-level Appalachian League issued similar statements.

MLB is negotiating with the Major League Baseball Players Association on the parameters of returning to play later this summer. The sides still appear to have a wide gap with regards to the pay structure and health conditions to be met in order to produce major league baseball safely during the pandemic.

One of those conditions is each MLB team maintaining a “taxi squad” of an indeterminate number of minor leaguers to support the active roster. Until those parameters are agreed upon, MLB teams won’t assign players to minor league rosters.

On Friday, Baseball America reported that MLB teams have been instructed to find sites for these taxi squads to train within 100 miles of their MLB home ballparks.

The taxi squads would most likely be comprised of veteran “fringe” players, minor leaguers that are close to MLB ready and top prospects.

Another complicating factor in stocking short-season rosters is the MLB draft, which was conducted earlier this week, was shortened from 40 rounds to five this season, seriously curtailing the number of players that MLB would normally assign to the short-season clubs.

Most MLB organizations have purged their system of dozens of minor leaguers over the past several months due to the continued postponement of the minor league baseball season.

In November, details of a plan by MLB to contract 42 of the 160 minor league teams, including most short-season Class A teams, was released. At the time, the plan was met with much resistance and threats of legal action.

But the pandemic has severely altered the landscape, and MLB seems poised to enact its plan without much of a fight as minor league organizations are forced to furlough or terminate employees and struggle to stay afloat without fans in the stands.

Now with the official delay and potential cancellation of the Northwest, New York-Penn and Appalachian leagues seasons, many markets may have already witnessed their last affiliated baseball.

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