8 Big Questions MLB Needs to Answer Before Play Can Resume
So it turns out having no baseball is a bad thing for a baseball blog. Weird, right? While certainly not as dire as what’s going on in the service and entertainment industries, it’s pretty clear that people have turned elsewhere for ways to spend time that might have otherwise been consumed by sports or engaging with other people at work or elsewhere.
The good news is that I can write pretty much the same thing over and over again because I know even fewer people than usual are reading it. In this case, it’s at least a more focused and organized spin on a set of topics that have laced previous content on Major League Baseball’s shutdown and eventual return.
As much as everyone involved wants play to resume as quickly as possible, there are a lot of details that must be worked out in the meantime. MLB and the players union will remain in communication throughout the next few weeks in an attempt to answer several questions posed by an unexpected second offseason that figures to last at least well into May.
No matter how much passion everyone involved has for the sport itself, it’s the pragmatism of the business side that will ultimately drive decisions. Or perhaps it’s more fair to say the passion for money will be the determining factor. Either way, here are some of the bigger issues facing the league and its players that must be resolved.
1) When will the season start?
This is clearly the most important one to answer, but it’s not as simple as just setting a date. With MLB abiding by CDC’s guidance, it appears for now as though May 10 would be the very earliest date by which formal activities could resume. Unless, that is, there’s approval to conduct workouts in groups of less than 50 people prior to that.
Then there’s the matter of how long a rebooted spring training would need to last. Even with players continuing their own individual workouts, the layoff will have wiped out pretty much everything that was accomplished at camp. As things currently stand, we’re looking at early June as a reasonable option.
2) How many games will be played?
This is largely dependent upon the start date, though Rob Manfred confirmed Monday that owners would still like to play a full season. A subsequent league memo said MLB was “committed to playing as many games as possible,” which could mean extending well beyond the initial end date of September 27.
There have been reports that an 81-game schedule is on the table, with other iterations obviously in the works as well. Anything they settle on could require amendments to CBA-mandated off days and travel guidelines, so it’s not as simple as just settling on a number. Then you’ve got the potential imbalance of home and road games, not to mention the looming threat of inclement weather in cold-weather cities with outdoor parks.
That becomes even more important during the postseason, making it a really bad idea to push the playoffs too far into November.
3) When is the trade deadline?
After moving from the previous two-deadline system for standard and waiver trades, MLB consolidated them into a single deadline on July 31. If that remains, teams will have just two months over which to see what they need. That actually makes sense if the season is halved, but it’d almost certainly have to move if the regular season runs deep into October.
4) How is service time calculated?
Already at the forefront of labor unrest, a shortened season could wipe out a year of service time if not specifically addressed. My assumption is that they’d go with a percentage model, though even that leaves open the possibility for manipulation. Maybe they just establish a smaller number of days required to accrue a years of service in 2020.
On the bright side, the increased importance could teams to field the best possible roster without as much regard for club control.
5) What about escalators, bonuses, and vesting options?
This one could end up getting really contentious, since players have no chance at maxing out bonuses based on counting stats. The same is true for vesting clauses and escalators that could trigger an extra year or convert a club option in a player option. Perhaps they can be prorated or partially guaranteed.
6) What about the luxury tax?
Now we’re getting into some deep waters with a topic that dictated the Cubs’ offseason and saw the Red Sox shipping Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers. There’s no way the league can use the $208 million threshold unless everything above is prorated as theorized above. Bonuses get factored in at the end of the season, so essentially wiping them out would have a significant impact on payroll.
In the end, all the AAVs should just remain the same and the existing limits kept in place, provided bonuses are still on the table. So this might not actually be a very big deal now that I start to think about it.
7) What happens with the draft?
Here’s where things get really weird, because teams will head into the June draft flying almost completely blind. MLB has prohibited scouting at all levels for the time being so as to prevent any teams from gaining an advantage. Not that it really matters, though, since there’s no amateur baseball taking place right now. Many foreign leagues are also shut down, so scouts have nothing to watch.
Effectively immediately, MLB is temporarily prohibiting all scouting activity, both domestic and international, a source tells The Athletic. No tryouts, public or private. No attending of amateur games, showcases, workouts. No in-home or in-person visits, or scouting remotely.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 16, 2020
The NCAA has granted extra years of eligibility to athletes who saw their spring seasons canceled, which, along with the removal of scholarship limits, may serve to give current seniors a good deal more leverage. In the past, those players were often forced to accept bonuses that were well below their slotted amount because they didn’t have the option to return to school.
Now, however, those senior players suddenly become the most scouted from among draft-eligible college players. What’s more, they’ve got the power of choice and can spurn a lowball bonus to take advantage of another year of school. The same might not be true for juniors or little-known juco players who would have parlayed a strong season into a higher draft slot and big bonus.
Any draft is fraught with risk, but 2020’s may be even more so as the result of widespread coronavirus shutdowns.
8) What about the All-Star Game?
This is pretty frivolous in the grand scheme of things, like a bathroom break when dad is hellbent on maintaining his scheduled pace on your family vacation. As weird as it would be to hold the ASG less than two months into the season, it’d suck for the host city to miss out on it. There’s also the matter of player bonuses for making the team.
Then again, there wouldn’t be as much of a need for a midseason break when the first half has already been shortened. And hey, those extra few days might prove more useful for actual games if they’re looking to play as many as possible.
This is where I should have come up with another question or two in order to get to 10, but it’s taken me about four hours to put this together as is. Rather than rest my addled brain, I’ve got another idea burning a hole in my pocket and I need to get it out as soon as this is done.
Any questions of your own or some you think the league and players need to address? Leave it in the comments.