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Blue Jays GM openly ponders idea of seven-inning doubleheaders

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TORONTO — Seven-inning doubleheaders could be a way for big league teams to squeeze more games into a condensed season without exhausting pitching staffs, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins suggests.

Opening Day has been postponed until at least mid-May because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Blue Jays were set to begin the 2020 season at home against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday afternoon.

Atkins pitched in Cleveland‘s minor league system for five seasons before becoming the Indians’ assistant director of player development. He was hired as Toronto’s general manager in December 2015.

College and minor league teams typically play seven innings in each game of a doubleheader.

Twinbills are rarely scheduled in the majors. But Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black said last week that frequent doubleheaders might be necessary to help fit more games into a shorter window.

Asked what he saw as potential solutions to scheduling issues, Atkins mentioned shorter games in doubleheaders.

“Maybe that’s something we have to consider,” he said on a conference call Wednesday.

By averaging nine games per week, a team could play 162 games in 18 weeks, eight fewer than usual. That means Major League Baseball could start as late as July and play a full schedule by extending the regular season through October.

Still, even Atkins isn’t entirely sold on the idea.

“You’re not playing the game that is written in the rulebooks,” he said. “It’s not the regulation game; it’s a different game. Bullpens and teams are built in a way to play nine innings. I’m sure there are people that would challenge that, and I’m not so sure it’s something we should do.”

No matter how many innings get played, the likelihood of a condensed schedule will require greater roster flexibility once baseball resumes, Atkins said.

“If you’re playing multiple doubleheaders, and suppose they are nine innings each, the demands on a pitching staff would be extremely significant,” he said.

Atkins declined to say how many games he feels would be necessary this season, acknowledging the complexity of the issue.

“Decreasing the number of games isn’t just about record books,” he said. “It’s more complicated than that because of compensation reasons, because of how rosters were built and the resources that were poured into the planning to get where we are today.

“It’s not just as simple as ‘OK, we have this number of days, let’s play this number of games and call it a year.'”

Atkins said baseball must take a collaborative approach to finding solutions to scheduling problems.

“What we need to do is get ideas out where people feel safe mentioning them and then work through what’s practical, what makes sense, what are the downsides, because there’s going to be downsides, and try to weigh those appropriately,” he said. “Get all of those ideas on the table and then sort through the execution of them and think about the unintended consequences and come up with a game plan that we can put in play.”

Isolated at home in Toronto after returning from spring training in Dunedin, Florida, Atkins and his staff remain focused on evaluating amateur players as best they can. The Blue Jays hold the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft.

Even with college and high school games shut down, Atkins said the Blue Jays will be ready for the draft as soon as it happens.

“We feel that we could get prepared in a short period of time based on the information that we have and be very competitive,” he said.

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Shin-Soo Choo donating funds to Rangers minor leaguers

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Texas Rangers veteran Shin-Soo Choo bounced around from Grand Chute, Wisconsin, to Tacoma to Buffalo in his first three seasons in baseball, so he knows firsthand how tough life is for minor leaguers.

So Choo is opening his pockets to minor leaguers in the Texas organization who are struggling because of the coronavirus shutdown. The 37-year-old designated hitter is giving $1,000 each to approximately 190 players in the Rangers’ farm system.

“I came here with nothing, but baseball has given me a lot since,” Choo told Naver Sports of South Korea. “Minor league players are the future of our organization. I just hope that they can fight through and overcome this difficult time.”

Choo, who was a teenager out of South Korea when he signed his first contract with the Seattle Mariners in 2004, shared a text exchange he had with outfielder Eli White, who played with Triple-A Nashville last season.

“Hey, Choo, this is Eli,” White texted. “Thanks for helping me out with the per diem checks. It is going to help my wife and I out a lot.”

Choo’s response: “Eli don’t worry about money. Just keep playing baseball. Let me know if you need something more.”

Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that it would pay all minor leaguers a minimum of $400 per week — plus medical benefits — through the end of May.

Choo, an All-Star in 2018, was slated to earn $21 million this season, the final year of a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Rangers.

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DirecTV to carry Dodger games on SportsNet LA

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DirecTV has reached a deal to carry the Los Angeles Dodgers network, SportsNet LA.

The Dodgers own the channel but granted exclusive negotiating rights to what was then, Time Warner Cable, in 2013.

Until now, the majority of Los Angeles has not been able to watch Dodgers games because DirecTV has not carried the channel.

“This agreement underscores our commitment to provide all Dodgers fans the opportunity to enjoy our award-winning programming and live game coverage,” said Dan Finnerty, Senior Vice President, Spectrum Networks. “Working together with AT&T, we were able to reach an agreement to offer the region’s most popular teams to local fans across AT&T’s video platforms.”

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MLB cancels Cubs-Cards London series in June

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Major League Baseball has canceled its London Series in June between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The teams were set to play two games at West Ham’s Olympic Stadium on June 13 and 14.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement in a memorandum sent to MLB employees on Wednesday.

“We made the decision because it was unlikely the events would go forward, and timely cancellation allowed us to preserve important financial resources,” Manfred wrote. “We also have canceled agreements with service providers and delayed projects that involve large capital expenditures.”

MLB played in Europe for the first time last June 29-30, when the New York Yankees swept a pair of games from the Boston Red Sox in London.

Opening Day was to have been March 26, and MLB has delayed the start of its season until mid-May at the earliest.The NBA, NHL and all other major sports leagues are currently on hold.

Like the United States, Great Britain has been hard hit by the virus.

The Cardinals won the NL Central last season. while the Cubs made a push late but then faded to finish third.

Major League Baseball had already canceled two series scheduled for this season in Mexico City and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The San Diego Padres had been scheduled to play the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 18-19 in Mexico City, and the New York Mets were supposed to play the Miami Marlins on April 28-30 in San Juan. The games will be rescheduled for the home teams’ sites in Arizona and Miami, MLB said.

Manfred also referenced last week’s agreement with the players’ association in which teams agreed to provide $170 million in advance pay and the union agreed not to make claims for additional pay. As part of the deal, if the season is scrapped, players would receive service time for 2020 matching what they received in 2019.

“The agreement provided much needed certainty to our clubs and avoided a confrontation with the players’ association at a time when our country has limited tolerance for petty squabbles,” Manfred wrote. “Most important, I truly believe that the agreement is a necessary first step toward getting the game back on the field.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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