It seems, as we have gone through nearly seven weeks since the 2020 MLB season should have begun, that various plans to start up baseball this year have mostly come under the label of “let’s throw this one up in the air and see if anyone likes it.”
Among the latest rumors was a “Spring Training 2.0” that would begin sometime around mid-June, at each team’s ballpark, and a season that would start sometime around the beginning of July — perhaps July 4, for symbolic reasons.
Now, it appears that MLB owners have an actual proposal that could be presented to players as early as this week. There have been several published reports this weekend on various aspects of this proposal, and I thought I’d go through them, cite the most important points, and add my thoughts.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has the basic structure of the proposed season:
A regular season beginning in early July and consisting of approximately 80 games. The number might not be exactly 80 — 78 and 82 are also possibilities.
The schedule would be regionalized: Teams would face opponents only from their own division and the same geographic division in the opposite league. An NL East club, for example, would face teams only from the NL East and AL East.
A 78-game schedule might look like this: Four three-game series against each division opponent and two three-game series against each non-division opponent.
That’s about half of a normal MLB season. If such a season were to begin in early July, it’d wind up wrapping up sometime in early October, as a “normal” season has about 80 games from early July to its conclusion. However, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, there could possibly be more than 80ish games:
There are those in the game who are still holding out for 100 games via more doubleheaders, fewer off-days and perhaps pushing the regular season into October, but one source described that as “a very optimistic, everything going right” scenario.
There are still some cities and states around the US and Canada that might not be open and available for baseball by June or July, though — particularly Toronto:
Toronto also might open by then, though nonessential travel between the U.S. and Canada is restricted through at least May 21 and all travelers to Canada are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Teams unable to open in their cities temporarily would relocate, either to their spring training sites or major-league parks in other parts of the country. The same would apply to spring training 2.0 if the league decides to use mostly home parks as opposed to returning to Florida and Arizona.
Not all clubs agree they should train in their home parks, believing spring locales offer a less densely populated, more controlled environment.
If you’re going to have some teams in Florida and some in Arizona, why not go back to the Cactus/Grapefruit League idea first floated last month? Rosenthal’s right about having a “more controlled environment” in those locations, plus far less travel. And about travel, Joel Sherman writes:
In this proposal, for example, even moving regionally, players would still have to travel by bus or plane and be housed in hotels, and for clubs such as the Marlins and Mariners, there are large distances to cover even staying in their time zones.
One way to minimize the travel, a source told The Post, is the potential to have series of as many as six games, allowing a team to complete its season series against a club in that park and not have to travel back to that same site. Plus, MLB is working with teams to minimize the number of people who would be in the stadium and clubhouses.
That might work, but even if the sport is divided into the three-division plan first floated a couple of weeks ago, there are still over 1,000 miles separating some cities within divisions (Boston/Miami, Seattle/San Diego, Seattle/Denver), plus you’ve still got the issue of quarantine in Toronto, and if the Blue Jays have to play at their spring complex while other teams are using their home ballparks, doesn’t that put the Jays at a competitive disadvantage? Or advantage, given the fact that they’d have extra practice facilities while teams in their home cities wouldn’t?
And then there’s the issue of pay for the players, which could throw a wrench into the entire plan. Sherman writes:
Also, the MLB plan will ask the players to take a pay cut because, at least to begin and possibly all season, there will be no fans and, thus, no revenue from ticket sales, parking, concessions and luxury suites. The union has stated the March 26 agreement with MLB covered this area, ensuring the players would receive a prorated total of their salary — about 50 percent in an 80-game schedule. The union has indicated there is no budge in its position on this.
MLB currently is equally inflexible. The commissioner’s office has said the March 26 pact calls for further negotiations about player salaries if there are relocations or no spectators. MLB has said it will lose more money by keeping the pay prorated without fans and is averse to playing games in that situation.
Both sides are correct, to a point. If games are played without fans, teams are going to lose about 40 percent of total revenue, somewhere around $4.5 billion. Players agreed to take a minimum of $170 million in the March agreement — that’s only about four percent of the total salaries agreed to for the 2020 season, and would take no more if the season is cancelled entirely. Owners say further negotiations are required. The Major League Baseball Players Association has said “a deal’s a deal.” This could bring the entire scenario down. Beyond that, says Sherman:
There remain many club executives and agents who remain dubious if a season is going to be played at all as the virus continues to bedevil municipalities and cases grow in certain areas.
And the health concerns were echoed in this ESPN.com article by Jesse Rogers, quoting a member of the MLBPA executive board:
“I don’t think anything can be done until that [safety] can be guaranteed and we feel comfortable with it,” executive board member and St. Louis Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller told ESPN. “We want to put a good product on the field, but that’s totally secondary to the health of the players. We are generally younger and healthier, but that doesn’t mean our staff is, that doesn’t mean the umpires are going to be in the clear.
“It’s not hard to get one degree of separation away from players who have kids who may have conditions, or other family members that live with them. I’m confident before anything happens, we’ll sort through all those issues.”
Miller makes it sound easy, but if Major League Baseball is truly going to be back on the field in just a little over seven weeks, players and owners have a lot to sort through. And it isn’t going to be strictly their call. As noted just about everywhere, any return to professional sports, even without fans, local, state and provincial governments are going to have to give their approval. That’s by no means a certainty.
As always, we await developments. (And again, I ask everyone to keep any politically-oriented commentary here strictly related to baseball.)
Once again, regarding Major League Baseball in 2020...
This poll is closed
Play all the games in Arizona
Use the Cactus/Grapefruit League plan
Use the Arizona/Florida/Texas plan
Start the games in early July in MLB home parks
Forget it, cancel the season and start again in 2021
Something else (leave in comments)