MLB and the MLBPA are conferring on many topics regarding the return to baseball operations. Since a return to “normal” baseball operations is not possible, there are many discussions that have to take place and agreements that have to be reached before baseball players once again take to the fields. First and foremost is –
“When will it be safe to start the baseball regular season?”.
Obviously, this is the most important issue to be decided. MLB has followed CDC’s March 15th recommendation against holding gatherings of 50 people or more for eight weeks. If MLB continues to comply with this guidance and conditions take a turn for the better, the earliest start date seems to be mid-May. But, the players’ need for a short spring training-like camp prior to beginning to play real games could push that start date back, unless teams begin bringing players in early in smaller groups. The only thing we can be sure of is that MLB will start as soon as possible.
“How many games will be played in the 2020 season?”
The owners have harbored hopes of still playing a 162 game season. The eventual start date will determine if that is possible. Let’s say the season starts on June 1st. June through September provides just 122 dates for baseball. If they start two weeks earlier and extend two weeks into October, that’s a another 28 dates and 150 total. However, that pushes the start of the playoffs back, and more importantly doesn’t address off days. According to the current CBA, contract, “no club shall be scheduled, or rescheduled if practicable, to play more than twenty consecutive dates without an open day”. There are also restrictions regarding the scheduling of double headers, split double headers, games played after travel between time zones, and so on. So, MLB and the MLBPA will have to come to agreement on scheduling to get the most games played in a limited amount of time.
“Do you still hold an All Star game?”
In a shortened season, 4 days off for the All Star game will cost 45 individual games. Do trade off the these games for the mid summer classic? If yes, you’d still hold the voting so that players who have such clauses in their contracts could still meet such provisions.
“How many players will make up an active roster?”
I’ve heard that there are discussions to expand the 26-man roster to 30 with the addition of 4 pitchers when the season begins. Whether that continues for the remainder of the season or how it affects roster expansion toward the end of the season would need to be discussed. Would they consider further expansion of the roster to say 35 players with the inclusion of double headers on Saturdays? Would they consider operating under under the provision that players are scheduled off the active roster in lieu of off days?
So, once you determine it is safe to start the season and when to start the season, do you just start playing games as already scheduled? Or, do you re-write a new schedule, cramming in as many games as possible (with MLBPA approval, of course)? Do you reschedule more division games? Do you reschedule regionally, requiring less and shorter travel?
Do you tinker with the playoff format? I’ve already seen the “add more teams” balloon floated in social media. Does an additional playoff round or rounds help baseball more than the games lost at the end of the regular season to add more playoff teams/games?
Tinkering with the roster begets other discussion items. Such as, how players are credited with service time in a season that is hardly likely to be 182-187 days long. Would players who were inactive for a game lose out on service time for that game? Service time may be the biggest concern for the MLBPA.
Teams are concerned about their revenue stream. Losing games obviously hurts the gate and concessions. Season ticket holders will have to be refunded money for lost games (or credited on a future purchase). I don’t know how baseball’s TV contracts are worded, but it would seem to me that the contracts require that games be played. If the contracts require that a certain number of games be played, some national and many local outlets will be paying less to broadcast baseball this summer.
Individual player contracts will be affected by the length of the season. Some include options that require that players meet certain objectives during the 162-game season to trigger an option for higher compensation. For instance, a certain number of innings pitched or appearances for pitchers. In some cases, an optional year may be triggered. For example, in recent Phillies’ history Cole Hamels’ 6-year contract included a $20M club option for 2019 that automatically triggered for $24M if Hamels –
- “has 400 IP in 2017-18, including 200 IP in 2018, and
- is not on the disabled list with a shoulder or elbow injury at the end of the 2018 season”
So, unless such provisions are pro-rated for a shorter season, players are going to have difficulty reaching some contract items.
MLB is also confronted with how to compensate its minor league players. I know that some teams have decided to give the players their daily stipend which isn’t much when you consider that was just to cover the expense of their third meal each day during spring training since each team provided breakfast, lunch, and a place to stay. (After starting this article, MLB announced an Interim Support Plan to Pay Minor League Players which addresses the dates from the time they were sent home until the day before the start of the minor league seasons on April 9th.)
“More Double Headers?”
I mentioned double headers a couple times above. Before I could publish this essay, I saw that the Rockies manager was in favor of more double headers (2 per week, he said). Well, that’s really cool of him since he doesn’t have to play them. However, as I stated above, double headers are limited by contract and would have to be negotiated. Saturday split double headers would add about 18 games to a truncated season of 4 months. They could add to the all important revenue stream and help satisfy TV contracts. But, I’m sure they would come at a cost during negotiations with the MLBPA. Like service time and roster size, maybe?
I’m sure there are many, many more details to be discussed and agreed upon between the owners and the MLBPA. But, let me publish this before I see something else that I might want to add to this tome. (By the way, this is just an aside, but I would not be surprised to find out that MLB is insured for just such an incident as losing all or most of a season to a pandemic or other catastrophe.)