Sources: MLB hopeful, but bracing for disruptions to early-season games

Major League Baseball teams are preparing for local governments seeking to limit the spread of the coronavirus to implement policies that could disrupt the beginning of the season and cause the league to move more regular-season games to spring training facilities, sources familiar with the planning told ESPN.

While MLB remained hopeful Wednesday that it would continue playing spring training games and start the regular season on March 26, executives were bracing for cities and states to follow Washington state, which banned gatherings of more than 250 people, and San Francisco, which limited gatherings to 1,000.

The edicts forced the cancellation of an exhibition game between the San Francisco Giants and  Oakland Athletics and the move of the Seattle Mariners' opening series, probably to the Phoenix area, sources told ESPN. The possibility of other California teams needing to enlist contingency plans remains strong, sources said.

How that affects the entirety of MLB, which continued playing spring training games with fans in the stands Wednesday, is an open question being considered by organizations. Multiple teams Wednesday started pulling scouts off the road and canceling future travel, sources told ESPN. Officials expect a majority of teams to do the same within the next few days.

High-level MLB executives were expected to participate in a Friday phone call in which plans for the season would be discussed, sources said. MLB could face pressure to limit fan access to games or consider pushing back Opening Day in light of the NBA's postponement following the coronavirus diagnosis of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. The NHL said in a statement it would address its immediate plans Thursday morning.

While the timeline for baseball to address Opening Day isn't quite as urgent as the NBA and NHL, which are in the midst of their seasons, three high-ranking team officials Wednesday said they hoped the league could settle on a plan within days so teams could inform players and staff about how to proceed.