America’s spring of sporting discontent spilled over into the summer early Monday evening, merely seconds after the MLB Players Association rejected Major League Baseball’s last-ditch effort for a 60-game regular season and expanded postseason — by a resounding 33-5 vote.
You may ask, How was there a 28-vote disparity with the players, when Monday’s formal offering resembled the general framework of the terms personally negotiated by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA director Tony Clark last week, when the former flew to Clark’s Arizona home and hammered out the supposed blueprint of temporary labor peace?
For a few desolate moments, that was the million-dollar question to ponder, as baseball fans everywhere attempted to understand the latest and perhaps most absurd p.r. blunder from the league and its players.
(Where’s that GIF of someone stepping on a rake when you need it?)
And then, something funny happened on the way to denouncing baseball for the foreseeable future, while also wondering if the sport’s labor problems would morph into 2021 and 2022, since the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the owners and MLB players expires in 17 months:
Less than one hour after the players’ one-sided ‘nay’ vote, Manfred’s office informally alerted media sources that baseball would unilaterally impose the setup for a substantial, yet truncated season in 2020.
The overview reportedly involves:
**Each club would fulfill the obligations of a 60-game campaign during the regular season (full pro-rata pay).
**No ticket-buying fans will be allowed in any of the home stadiums, at least during regular-season action.
**No universal designated hitter in 2020, meaning the National League would maintain its long-standing setup of allowing pitchers to bat in the starting lineup.
(NOTE: Jim Bowden of The Athletic reports that ‘universal DH’ might be back on the table for 2020.)
**The money pool for the expanded playoffs could incur a potential uptick of $25 million … although the various reports haven’t reached a consensus with this compensation issue.
**Players would report to major league camps (otherwise known as Spring Training II) by July 1, with the intent of a July 24 Opening Day across the league.
**The regular season would conclude in the ballpark of Sept. 27, with the expanded postseason (eight teams for the American and National leagues) occupying the full October calendar.
With this tiny sliver of upbeat news, everything suddenly seems well and good for the 2020 season.
However, a number of absolutely crucial questions remain with this love-hate venture among the owners and players:
a) Will the players sign off on the league’s Coronavirus-related protocols for health and safety, along with game-day operations (covering on-site players, coaches, executives, media and stadium personnel)?
b) How many players will opt out of playing this season, without penalty?
c) What will be the state of free-agent signings throughout July, since a robust number of productive free agents have yet to find a home for 2020?
d) How big will the major-league rosters be, compared to previous seasons? Would 35-40 active players suffice, with another 10-12 blue-chip prospects waiting in the wings — otherwise known as a taxi squad?
(NOTE: A number of small-market and/or rebuilding clubs likely wouldn’t choose to start the ‘major-league clocks’ of their top prospects in a truncated season.)
e) In terms of TV viewership, will MLB.com offer free or heavily discounted pricing for the MLB Extra Innings package?
From an optics standpoint, it probably wouldn’t serve the owners and players to upset the fans with expensive viewing plans. If anything, construct an olive branch for normal-season price points in 2021.
Personal case in point: The Tigers have been wandering in the proverbial woods for the last three years, merely averaging 58.3 wins during that span.
As a native Detroiter, this on-field lethargy fueled my indifference toward purchasing ‘MLB Extra Innings’ over the last two seasons, thinking the club had nothing to offer in the short or long term.
Plus, I had stopped playing fantasy baseball during this period … essentially crushing my once-rabid interest in late-night West Coast games that neither involved the Tigers nor Braves (current Atlanta resident).
The upside to being awful for a three- or four-year period? Thanks to high draft picks and shrewd moves in latter rounds, the Tigers have steadily built one of baseball’s most fruitful farm systems. And who knows, maybe Detroit will land a top-3 draft pick in 2021, as well.
One could argue Detroit has baseball’s best collection of starting-pitching prospects — a prolific group of power arms, led by Casey Mize (No. 7 overall prospect), Matt Manning (No. 24), Alex Faedo, Franklin Perez (amazing pure talent, when healthy), Joey Wentz (season-ending surgery) and Tarik Skubal (No. 46), who could emerge into a Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels clone over the next 10-12 years.
Will the above names be part of the Tigers’ extended roster for the highly unusual 2020 campaign?
Too early to tell. At the same time, however, the big club has enough young prospects teeming the roster to warrant a nightly look, via Extra Innings.
f) Will every team be permitted to conduct the 30 home games inside their respective stadiums? Or will certain Coronavirus ‘hotspots’ force a number of clubs to use their Spring Training epicenters for home outings?
g) Would the 2020 All-Star Game in Los Angeles even take place? And if so, would be it be a midpoint event for the season … or after the World Series, when fans could possibly visit Dodger Stadium?
MASTER SCHEDULE FOCUS
With the National and American leagues featuring 15 teams apiece, Interleague play would be required for nearly every sector of the 2020 composite calendar (excluding off-days).
Last November, Major League Baseball had the following setup of Interleague play set for 2020:
NL East vs. AL West
NL West vs. AL Central
NL Central vs. AL East
However, given the renewed importance of limiting air travel for this surreal season, MLB would likely revert back to the more convenient setup of …
NL East vs. AL East
NL Central vs. AL Central
NL West vs. AL West
That’s 15 games right there, or one-quarter of the 60-game slate.
Of course, in terms of balancing out home/road splits, MLB could possibly limit Interleague matchups to four series (of three games), meaning an NL East club would avoid one AL East foe.
(The same would hold true for the other crossover battles.)
Given the time constraints of July-September, that plan would give the schedule-maker some flexibility with the 45-48 non-Interleague outings.
Speaking of which …
Let’s use the Yankees for this example.
**Every AL East team would play one road series (three games in length) against each AL West squad — 15 games total.
**Every AL East club would play one home series (three games) against each AL Central squad — 15 games total.
**For intra-divisional outings (AL East), the Yankees would encounter the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays and Orioles for one series apiece, covering either three or four games.
Let’s take the Cubs for this hypothetical.
Instead of appeasing the 10 cumulative teams in the NL East and NL West, the Cubs’ entire non-Interleague focus would involve intra-divisional play.
That’s 11 or 12 games apiece versus the Reds, Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates — or three series with each club.
For the sake of balance, Chicago could travel to Cincinnati and Milwaukee for that third intra-divisional series … and then host St. Louis and Pittsburgh for Series No. 3, respectively.
Which plan would Baseball Nation likely prefer?
Given the desire for diminished travel, it would behoove Major League Baseball to focus on the heated rivalries of intra-divisional opponents, or Option B.
The rationale: Let’s work in a little competitive hate to these games … while simultaneously imploring fickle fans to love baseball once again.