If there is a baseball season, Al Leiter sees opportunity for those running the game to implement new ideas.
Whether that involves an expanded playoff structure, a regular season that stretches through October and World Series games at neutral sites, the former pitcher — now a MLB Network analyst and special adviser for the Mets — embraces the idea of a potential season serving as a giant laboratory.
“I think this is a chance for central baseball to come up with some really creative stuff that will be accepted — even by the old guard of people who don’t want change — because of the circumstance,” Leiter told The Post. “This is a very unique situation and we need to bring fans back. Let’s be creative here.”
But many of the possibilities depend upon the timeline of baseball resuming, following a shutdown three weeks ago due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In a best-case scenario, spring training would resume at some point in May, with Opening Day occurring by perhaps early June.
Teams initially kept their spring training complexes open for workouts, but in the last 1 ½ weeks sent players home to await further instructions as social distancing is encouraged.
There have been suggestions that players, particularly pitchers, would need three weeks of additional spring training to prepare for a season, but Leiter suggested it could be a smaller window.
“I think because guys are so responsible and so regimented with their routine and process that just because they are not in Port St. Lucie or Tampa, they are still getting in their work,” Leiter said. “Maybe it’s only two weeks of spring training. ‘Hey, come down here, we’re not going to play many games, if any, get it together, a few side days.’
“You are probably going to see expanded rosters, especially with pitchers. Come out, have starters go three innings and let that be the norm in the real big-league game for a couple of go-arounds. That is your biggest concern is making sure some dude doesn’t go out and throw 100 pitches in his first outing.”
The players’ impetus for a shorter spring training would be to begin receiving normal paychecks. As it stands, 40-man roster players throughout the game are dividing $170 million that has been advanced to them by owners.
“If I were playing right now, it’s a matter of getting teams to start playing again so we all could start getting paid,” Leiter said. “Do I want to sit in Port St. Lucie for a few weeks? No. Let’s get going. Maybe they don’t even have to go down there, just go to your big-league stadium. Do intrasquad games and let’s go.”
Leiter’s disappointment about baseball’s shutdown extends beyond the major league level. The former pitcher’s son Jack is a standout at Vanderbilt, and Leiter had hoped to spend much of the spring watching him pitch for the defending College World Series champions.
“When you really peel it back with the layers of disappointment it really is almost endless with respect to how one entity affects so many layers of groups of people and industry and economics of it and enjoyment and fulfillment and all of it,” Leiter said, referring to the coronavirus. “It goes multiple, multiple layers.”