In a long-expected move, MLB confirmed the return of alternate sites in 2021 on Tuesday. The decision delays Triple-A baseball’s return, originally slated to return April 6 to the first week of May. This means the Triple-A schedule now coincides with the rest of the minor leagues. ESPN reported on the delay, and MLB followed up by confirming the move.
Alternate sites are coming back — and the AAA season, which was scheduled to begin April 6, will be delayed for at least a month, sources tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 2, 2021
News at ESPN on the reason for delay, the wait for vaccines and how this alt site will differ from 2020's: https://t.co/zRRT6mn7Nz
The alternate sites will again serve as training grounds for the major league counterparts. According to MLB, the decision is a COVID-19 precaution. The sites are closer to home stadiums, reduce commercial air travel used by minor league players, and allow for better testing oversight and open up the possibility of vaccinating players.
MLB proposed a similar delay to the major league season. The players declined the proposal, unwilling to take considerable pay risks and bargaining power losses that came along with the agreement. The rejection is influenced by contract negotiation tensions, including those around a return to baseball while COVID-19 raged across the country last season. The union’s distrust for MLB, which typically prioritizes owners’ interests over those of players, also made the agreement unlikely. Minor league players can’t decline the change since MLB has unilateral control over affiliated teams in the minor leagues.
For the Brewers, the change immediately impacts their new (returning) Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds. To make up for the delay, the Sounds and other Triple-A teams expect their seasons to run into September rather than ending at the beginning of the month as they typically do.
Unlike in 2020, the alternate site will operate concurrently with the lower levels of the affiliated minor leagues. Consequently, alternate sites likely will host less than the 60 players they hosted in 2020. ESPN suspects about two dozen players at the sites, the size of a typical Triple-A roster. MLB has yet to confirm the size of the alternate site player pools. Players closest to the major leagues will go to the alternate site. Expect top prospects and players expected to see big league action in 2021 at the Brewers’ alternate site.
The alternate training sites’ locations aren’t determined yet. The decision to keep alternate training sites is ostensibly based on keeping players close to their home stadiums. Suppose the alternate training sites continue beyond April, as some MLB executives have indicated. It’s unclear how alternate training sites will share facilities with lower-level minor league seasons happening concurrently. For example, if the alternate training site were to extend further into the season, how would they share Fox Cities Stadium with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers?