“Baseball—Bringing It Back–Easier Said Than Done.”
They are talking Monday on a conference call….baseball’s owners and the Commissioner Rob Manfred.
They will talk Tuesday…Manfred and the Players Association leader Tony Clark.
And then we will wait.
It has been 8-weeks since our country shutdown, more than 80,000 people died, our economy collapsed, and sports stopped.
The questions are enormous, the answers are still hard to come by as the Covid-19 virus moves from one part of the country to another.
New York’s numbers are way down. Boston’s continue to spike up. The once safe haven that was the Midwest is now a hot spot. The West Coast locked down early but hasn’t hit its apex.
So there is no baseball at Yankees Stadium, Wrigley Field or Dodgers Stadium. The Angels and Mets and Pirates and Orioles are all shutdown.
Manfred will make what appears to be a 17-point proposal to owners about opening the season, with the parameters of how he sees the game come together again. Of course, this is all without doctors and science having solved the corona virus, as medical research continues.
A look at the ideas to be shared with the Ron Fowler’s and Peter Seidler’s of the world tomorrow, and then the Players Association on Tuesday.
TARGET DATES…A hope to have a 3-week spring training starting in mid June, most to be held in the home stadiums of teams. However the state Governors will have to make a call if they are to allow the reopening of stadiums to baseball staffs, trainers, players. For hot spots like New York and Boston, MLB would have those players report to their spring training camps in Florida or Arizona.
STADIUMS..MLB thinks it can execute an 80-game schedule to open around July 1st, in home stadiums, without crowds. An addendum to this would be if hot spots continue, then the Yankees-Mets-Red Sox-Braves might play regular season games at their spring training sights to start the delayed season.
SCHEDULES…MLB toyed with a lot of different ideas….the Cactus-League-Grapefruit Circuit schedule with teams playing just teams in Florida…or just Arizona teams pairing off in spring training venues. Then there was the 2-city ideas of dissolving the American and National League, and having the Florida teams play in domes in Miami-Tampa and the Western teams play in the Texas Rangers-Houston Astros parks. Then came the 3-city package, 10-teams in the East, 10-in Central and 10-in West, using the Miami-Texas-Arizona venues. Too complicated to have these teams together for long periods of time. Instead, players can live at home, play behind closed doors in stadiums to at least start the season.
GAMES…The owners will vote now on the proposal that everybody plays in their own stadiums and will play a geogrphical schedule. The NL-West would have its typical divisional matchup with the Padres-Dodgers-Rockies-Giants and D-Backs. But they would also play games against teams from the AL-West, so for this season only, the Mariners-Angels-Rangers-Astros and A’s become opponents to fill out the 80-game slate. The same for the other teams, AL-East faces the NL-East, and the Central Division teams in the AL-ML matchup. There is also talk of extended series to cutback on travel, a team plays a rival in a 6-game series covering a week, rather than 3-games series.
ROSTERS…What was supposed to a season roster of 26-playes this year, will likely be expanded to 30-on game day once they start playing. Now baseball indicates there will be a taxi squad of players also invited to this next spring training camp. To be determined, how many come to camp to be insurance policy players in case of injuries. They started with a 10-man taxi squad idea, now they are talking about 20 extra players, meaning a 50-player camp. Tough decision for the Padres, do you include top Double AA players to be part of the mix?
RULES…Alot of discussion about playing 7-inning doubleheaders on Sundays to help jam games into the schedule. No determination if that will be necessary in an 80-games season. There was talk of using the DH in both leagues, never done before, and that is still open to debate.
PLAYOFFS…MLB will expand the playoffs to kick in this fall. 7-teams in each league, meaning 3-division winners and 4-wildcards. Baseball will give a 1st round bye to the top record team in each league. The other two division winners and the top wildcard team will have home field advantage for the best of three opening rounds. Those teams would face the other three wildcards in the opening round. Still to be determined, where those games might be played, home stadiums vs neutral sights, warm weather or domes, for those games will be in October.
WORLD SERIES….Will definitely be at a neutral sight or in warm weather cities, for it falls in November. The key issue, if say the Dodgers or Astros are in, do you avoid playing those games in Los Angeles or Houston? All seven games of the Fall Classic will be at the same location.
MINOR LEAGUES…This is the hardest thing to swallow. It does not appear there will be minor league baseball anywhere, not as we have known the Pacific Coast League, the International League and others to be. What happens to all those prospects, who don’t play, don’t get paid? An alternative plan might be to open each spring training camp sometime in summer, if the virus is shutdown, and allow a fixed number of top prospects to go to Florida and Arizona for part of the summer.
DRAFT….MLB is getting its way. They had discussed a massive cutdown of the draft, from 40-rounds down to 20, as part of a massive rebranding of minor league baseball, where they were planning to fold 4-lower minor leagues, and do away with 42-teams in all, in huge cost-cutting measures. This becomes about cost-control. Now the June draft will be moved, but it will be just 5-rounds, and top picks will receive the slot bonus system, using last year’s figures. Any player undrafted can be signed to a free agent contract, with a max signing bonus of 20,000, way below the old slot system numbers. It may drive prospects to college baseball immediately. Still to be determined, how many undrafted free agents teams can sign, and how many get max bonus money? Draft picks, there will be (160) this year, compared to (1,217) last year, will get their money but on a 3-year payment schedule, stretching into 2021 and 2022.
DOCTORS-SCIENCE…The CDC and the Doctor Anthony Fauchi’s of the world will mandate testing of all people working for teams, and those helping put on the home games, even in empty stadiums, plus all the players, coaches, and staff in the clubhouses. How many tests per week to be determined.
WHAT IF…Remains the great unknown. What if a player tests positive? He gets quarantined, but what about his teammates he has been around in the clubhouse? What if a family member tests positive, does the player go into quarantine and leave the team? What if there is an outbreak in the Orioles clubhouse, do they shutdown the team and stop playing games? It is a great unknown in May but must be considered.
SALARIES….This becomes the other unknown in this debate. Just asking when was the last time the Union gave any money back? They had agreed that whatever a player makes, would be pro-rated based on games played. If this is an 80-game schedule, then Manny Machado would make 15M-not the 30M on the contract. But the union will ask, is that lost money forever, or deferred money? They agreed to the pro-rated formula. But now the other financial problem. No fans in the stands is huge for owners, for that revenue stream, fans coming to Petco Park, accounts for over 40% of a team’s revenue. The players will be asked to give up additional salary because there less money coming into the owners pot. Finding a formula will be a challenge. Getting the union to agree to a second financial giveback may be impossible. There is an idea the owners will ask the players to consider some type of ‘revenue share’ based on income in this shortened season, but there is no formula for this as they sail into unchartered waters.
FREE AGENCY….The owners agreed out of the box, that regardless of how many games were played or cancelled this year, this season would count as 1-full year towards service towards free agency. So that means if Dodgers incoming star Mookie Betts plays 80-games or 40-games, he get a full year’s credit and is a free agent next season. The Union needs to remember that has been given to them already, so taking a second pay reduction for no fans in the stands, needs to be considered as a give-back.
THE TV CONTRACTS…No one is touching this yet, but TV stations and radio flagships, who pay huge rights fees to broadcast games, are going to come back to baseball, and ask for rights fee deductions. Fox Sports San Diego pays for 162-telecasts, and will get only 80-games, which means fewer spot avails to sell ads. They will need a break in fees. The Padres flagship station, the Fan, pays 2.5M a year but now has half a schedule to broadcast with fewer advertising windows to sell. Add in all the signage in Stadiums, and sky-boxes that will be dark, and all the promotions that won’t happen with sponsorships attached, and you get a sense as to the catstrophic amounts of money that could be forefeited.
So you see, this is much more than balls and strikes and roster spots and when opening day is.
The conference calls, Monday and Tuesday, will be enormously important for the return to health of the game, after society finds its health.