It seems about every 10 or 12 days for the past six or seven weeks, MLB throws out bread crumbs on the when, where and how of a 2020 championship season.
First we heard about the All in Arizona scenario, and while I am sure it was thought through by smart people, it really did not take root. This was the plan that had all 30 teams playing in the 10 Cactus League spring training stadiums as well as Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The thinking back in early April before more of the complexities became obvious was that having these 11 stadiums all within 50 miles would have allowed MLB to essentially put the game on within a small geographical space. The ideas back then included players, umpires and essential team personnel all taking over small to medium hotels and being in a “quarantine-like” mode.
Then as April moved on, Florida was added to the mix, which would have essentially turned MLB into two 15-team divisions, with Arizona and Florida hosting 15 teams each. Some of that early- to mid-April talk also included the notion that with the use of stadiums in warm-weather locations, you could easily play the regular season into late October and have the playoffs run into the first three weeks of November.
But, as April turned into May we heard virtually nothing about these two plans. The preferred plan became teams playing games in their home parks, and for this one season changing the structure to essentially three-10 team corridors — 10 Eastern teams, 10 Central teams and 10 Western teams. Under this plan, there would be no NL and AL for this season.
The talks with respect to this plan focused on a start date of early July, with a spring training of sorts starting about June 10-15. These plans called for a huge rollback in games played (78-82 games per team), down from the usual 162 games. All 30 teams would use the DH.
And that led us to MLB about a week ago making an actual pitch to the players on this plan. In late March, MLB and the MLBPA had entered into an agreement that basically laid out how much players would be paid during the shutdown and for regular-season games. Players agreed to be paid a prorated amount depending on how many regular-season games would be played.
However, this agreement left vague the formula for players’ compensation in the event the season would be played without fans in attendance. Well, as MLB is striving to thread a safety-first needle, it has become more and more clear that fans will almost certainly not be at games in 2020. This scenario, it was agreed, would be discussed later.
Well, later got here in a hurry. MLB, as part of its initial proposal for how to start the season up, basically said that players would have to make a 50-50 revenue split with the owners. The owners, without any offer to share their books with the MLBPA, are claiming that teams could collectively take about a $3-4 billion dollar shave this year by paying prorated player salaries.
When the two sides actually met to discuss the plan, they led off by discussing for the first couple of days the logistics of playing baseball amid a pandemic. The plan was detailed in a 67-page format. This was everything that would go into the 2020 season — the travel, hotels, health care and testing — except for the money.
But what began to leak out throughout the past 2-3 weeks are the thoughts of several significant players — such as Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper and the ungrateful Blake Snell – about the 2020 season. All but Snell and a few others have been thoughtful and articulate. Snell probably was honest, but he didn’t make many friends with statement regarding the owners’ 50-50 proposal for revenues:
“For me to take a pay cut is not happening, because the risk is through the roof,” Snell said. “No, I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK? … The risk is way the hell higher and the amount of money I’m making is way lower. Why would I think about doing that?”
Nobody can argue that every word Snell said doesn’t have some legitimacy, but at a time when some 35 million American workers have lost their jobs and families across the country are waiting for the first time ever in food lines, perhaps Snell could have been, shall we say, more “big picture” in understanding that his future compensation may suffer due to circumstances related to the pandemic.
The clock is ticking, but the sides have another 10-12 days to iron out some things — clearly some major things.
Look, MLB’s draft has already been cut from 40 rounds to five for financial reasons. If you take that thread and run it to the number of games that MLB is proposing playing (78-82), it’s clear it wants to keep the number of games down, because that frankly will just lessen the shave they are already taking.
So, if the players won’t bite at all on a 50-50 revenue split that they see as a salary cap, might the remedy for a deal come in jumping that number of games up to perhaps 98-102, adding some seven-inning doubleheaders and playing the regular season an extra 10-14 days into October?
That’s what I think this crazy, crazy baseball season is hinging upon.
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin and Gary Sousa/PressBox