Just like a water softener, this latest report is going to require you to add a little salt. That said, the latest trial balloon floated by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale makes him damn near the Carl Fredricksen of this whole thing. Which is to say that he might eventually have enough of them to make it float. I guess that makes me Russell.
Dammit, I’m Dug.
In any case, Nightengale cites three anonymous executives in writing that MLB officials are “cautiously optimistic” about a plan that would see the season start no later than July 2 with three 10-team divisions. Those divisions would be based on geography and the 100- or 110-game schedule would consist only of games played within each division. Those parameters would eventually allow for games to be hosted in teams’ home ballparks, just without fans.
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot actually said Monday that she could envision Chicago hosting baseball games this summer, so perhaps she’s onto something. The thought is that significantly reducing travel would tamp down the health risks while also allowing players to be home with their families. The logistics are a bit wonky, to be sure, but it’s a more amenable solution than holing up in Phoenix for the whole season.
Speaking of which, it’s not known whether and for how long teams would need to go with the “Arizona Plan” or an alternative that would see them separated between three hubs. Given the nature of the proposal in question, the idea of having groups in Tampa, Arlington, and Phoenix does seem to dovetail quite nicely.
Because they’d be realigning so drastically, the postseason would probably be expanded to some extend. Maybe not to the two-month tournament between all 30 teams recently presented by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, but having 12 teams instead of 10 makes sense. Three division winners and nine wild cards, one of which would get a bye, breaks down to a viable format.
- Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Blue Jays, Rays, Marlins
- Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Athletics, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Rangers, Astros, Mariners
- Cubs, White Sox, Brewers, Cardinals, Royals, Reds, Indians, Twins, Braves, Tigers
The really optimistic notion here is that a season that stretches into mid-October could enable fans to be in attendance for at least the playoffs. That feels like something the owners are trying to will into existence, if only because missing out on gate receipts for this novel concept is going to chafe them worse than a marathoner who forgot to lube up their nipples and inner thighs.
Yup, it’s going to come down to money, especially when presenting this or any number of other proposals to the players. MLB officials would like to have the framework of a return plan in place by May in order to act on it as quickly as possible once COVID-19 testing and treatment are in ample enough supply for health officials to give sports the green light to continue.
I’ll say that again a little louder for the people in the back or on Facebook: Money and a go-ahead from health officials are the two most important aspects of any plan to return.
We’re not just talking about how much revenue owners can generate from reworked TV deals and what figure to be much higher ad rates. No, this is about strong-arming players into taking pay cuts beyond just the pro-rated salaries they already believed they’d agreed to. The union thought they were cool, while the owners believe their agreement included the ability to demand additional salary relief as a result of playing with no fans.
Nightengale reports that four owners said they’d require players to take pay cuts, with at least three more claiming they would flat-out refuse to participate in a truncated season if players don’t acquiesce to requests for salary relief. I’m no genius, but it sure feels like presenting the possibility of playing games in their home cities is a way for owners to dangle a tantalizing carrot on the end of a stick.
The real prize will just be getting back to actual baseball in whatever form it takes, though whether that’s enough to get some of the lower-paid union members to push for a compromise is not yet known. Even if you don’t listen to what the pundits are saying about optimism among various officials, these reports about specifics of their conversations appear to be coming at a faster pace and with more overlapping details.
There’s no fire yet, but the smoke is starting to get thick enough to really draw your attention at this point. And as various cities and states begin to reopen, there’s a sense that baseball is itching to find ways to do the same in short order.