Tomorrow should be Opening Day.
Rather than sitting here in anticipation for Hyun-Jin Ryu to make his first start as a Blue Jay and for Bo and Vlad and Biggio to take the next step in leading this exciting, young team forward, we’re sitting here in purgatory, wondering not when, but if we’ll get to watch baseball this year.
Right now, Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association are working through an array of difficulties that have come from the COIVD-19 shutdown. Things of note…
- The biggest labour-related issue for both sides is service time. Right now, a full season of service time for a player is 172 days. Obviously, if there aren’t 172 days in this season, a player won’t be able to accrue a full year of service time, which is a major issue for the PA. MLB has agreed to alter service time in the event of a shortened season, but there’s no solution yet for the worst-case scenario, which is a cancelled season. MLB and the MLBA have agreed to table the discussion around a worst-case scenario until that actually happens. The goal, of course, from both sides is to play as many games as possible in 2020.
- When President Trump declared a state of national emergency on March 13, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, MLB was given the right to withhold pay from player contracts. Unsurprisingly, the league hasn’t taken an aggressive stance on this issue. They’ve offered players a lump-sum advance of $150 million, which equates to about $125,000 per player on a 40-man roster. Again, this could get trickier if the season is cancelled, but MLB is aiming to offer a large advance payment in order to get the PA to agree not to sue for full salaries this year.
- The sides are preparing for a wealth of different scenarios, but both have agreed that regular-season games could stretch into October and the post-season could be played in November in neutral (warm-weather climates, domed stadiums) locations.
- The earliest possible date for the season to start right now is May 10. It’s incredibly unlikely that happens. MLB and the PA are planning for a later-than-expected start date for the season, such as the originally scheduled All-Star break in July. Both sides would prefer to play games with fans, but, knowing that this might not be a possibility, both sides have considered the possibility of empty games. The same goes for games at neutral sites. For teams in areas with the highest volume of COVID-19 cases, games could be played at other teams’ stadiums or at spring training facilities in Florida or Arizona.
- Another thing pushing back a possible start to the season is the need for another spring training. Mark Shapiro suggested this would require four weeks to execute properly, but the MLB and PA are discussing a shortened pre-season camp and instead allowing teams to carry more pitchers on their active roster in order to compensate. Pitchers, of course, are the ones who stand the biggest risk of injury if teams rush back into a season without an adequate warm-up period.
- Finally, there’s the huge issue of the draft. Teams spend roughly $400 million annually on signing bonuses for players they draft, so MLB views this as a possible way to cut costs in response to the revenue they’ll be losing this year. Teams are also skeptical of drafting players they haven’t been able to watch for months, as there isn’t currently high school or college baseball being played. They’ve discussed cancelling the 2020 draft and merging it with the 2021 draft, but that creates a lot of logistical issues that’ll ripple beyond this year. Another suggestion is playing show-case games without audiences and doing a smaller draft with just a few rounds rather than the usual 40 rounds.
That’s a lot of stuff to work through, and given the fact there are absolutely zero certainties about when or if a season will happen, it’s incredibly difficult to begin to make concrete plans. As badly as MLB wants to come as close to the 162-game normal season, it’s probably best for them to accept an abbreviated season at this stage. Planning for the inevitable now and being prepared for that circumstance rather than wasting time and energy planning to squish, like, 150 games into a schedule that starts in June, would help them navigate issues down the road.
Elsewhere, another pitcher is going for Tommy John surgery. This time, it’s Mets hurler Noah Syndergaard. He’ll join Chris Sale and Tyler Beede as pitchers to underdo the surgery and miss all of 2020. Well, I mean, if there is a 2020 to even miss, that is.
Syndergaard getting an elective surgery that will keep him out of baseball for over a year, in New York in the middle of a pandemic is peak Mets
— Cara Jeffrey (@cara_jeffrey) March 24, 2020
The name that really jumps out here is Sale, as he’s just entering the first year on his mega five-year extension with the Red Sox. Sale signed his $145 million deal just over a year ago and then went on to have the worst season of his career, posting a 4.40 ERA over the course of 25 starts. He saw a noticeable decline in velocity, though still managed impressive strikeout numbers (13.3 K/9).
For any pitcher out there dealing with lingering arm issues, it seems now is probably the time to get a Tommy John surgery done. You might not miss any games.