As baseball fans around the country are clamoring for a deal to be struck between the MLBPA and the owners to get at least a part of a season, it seems that this standoff is seemingly going to go on forever. ESPN’s Jeff Passan gave us a really good breakdown of the negotiations thus far, and the implications for both sides. If you want to understand the standoff, this is an excellent read. Both sides have said they’re not going to make any further concessions, and now the fate of the 2020 baseball season is up in the air. More and more, fans are beginning to sour on baseball, on players, on owners, on the lack of distractions from the state of the world that we are in right now. But is MLB actually giving us a distraction that we aren’t even aware of?
It may be hard to remember the days before coronavirus was an everyday topic of conversation, but once upon a time, MLB was in the middle of 2020 Spring Training. During this time, the league had a completely different smattering of issues that were either going to be bad for the league or already turning fans against the game that we all love so much. To remind everyone, there was:
- The sign stealing scandal and the subsequently poor handling of said scandal
- Rob Manfred drawing the ire of players and fans alike
- The debacle of the Mookie Betts trade and how it completely screwed the Red Sox
- The Yankees starting the season without their star outfielders and a broken pitching staff
- The Red Sox having zero chance of a playoff spot
- A ridiculous proposal for a new playoff format
- (Allegedly) Juiced baseballs
So how do these issues tie into the delay of season?
Season delay benefit #1: what sign stealing scandal?
Remember the sign-stealing scandal? The Astros got hit with the severest of punishments, as they were the ones that won a World Series using this method of cheating. But wait! At the time of their 2017 championship, it wasn’t really cheating, as the rules got stiffer after that year. However, the Yankees and Red Sox were using the outfield camera feed cheating methods too - but the Sox only got a minor slap on the wrist, and the Yankees seemingly aren’t getting into any serious trouble for their actions either. All of this despite claims from players around the league that the Astros weren’t the only team doing this. The Astros were already starting to feel the heat over their role in the scandal as Spring Training hit. The players were getting beaned during at bats, and Astros anti-fans (is that a thing? Anti-fans? It is now.) were booing and trolling them.
One has to wonder if this delay is a calculated distraction to keep fans from remembering all of this. Perhaps MLB thinks with enough time and other distractions, fans won’t remember that the Red Sox and Yankees (and Dodgers?) got away with cheating. It can’t be a coincidence that the teams that generate the most revenue for MLB are being protected from serious punishment. Which leads to...
Season delay benefit #2: The Yankees and Red Sox get desperately needed Time
I can’t imagine that the MLBPA is protecting two teams by holding up negotiations, but I can imagine that MLB wants two of their most profitable teams to bring in as much money as they can in a time where ticket sales aren’t going to be a source of revenue. The Yankees were going to have to start the season without the likes of pitchers James Paxton and Luis Severino, and outfielders Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks. The Red Sox traded away their best player (Mookie Betts), and their ace Chris Sale had to have Tommy John surgery. In the past, I’ve broken down how the league doesn’t do as well ratings-wise in years that don’t see the Yankees or Red Sox in the post season and that of the nationally televised regular season games, most involve the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers. All of these are large market teams that draw in the most sets of eyeballs, and if two of those teams are going to suck, it will be a financial nightmare for the league if most of the revenue this year will come from TV deals.
Delaying the season until July can give the Yankees time to get Paxton, Judge, Stanton and Hicks all back into the lineup. Having those guys back on the field, along with their newly signed pitcher Gerrit Cole, will also pretty much guarantee a spot in the post season. And if the Yankees are in the postseason, the Twins will likely get smoked by them. Again. A delay could even give the Red Sox a chance to get their team into something remotely decent and get them into an expanded playoff scenario that is being thrown out as an option in the 2020 negations. Which leads to...
Season delay benefit #3: the proposed playoff format becomes palatable
Back in February, Rob Manfred and MLB proposed a ridiculous playoff format that would increase the playoff pool from five teams to seven in each league. Aside from being an obvious money grab, this format will allow some really bad teams to get beaten up in the post season, as broken down by Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser:
To get a feel for just how low the bar for making the playoffs would be under MLB's reported playoff proposal, here is how many wins the seventh-place teams in each league have had since 2001.https://t.co/AzEeeipi2Z pic.twitter.com/PNKx7kvzEm— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) February 11, 2020
Nobody was on board with this, and players like former Cleveland ace Trevor Bauer were vocal about how terrible this idea was:
No idea who made this new playoff format proposal, but Rob is responsible for releasing it, so I’ll direct this to you, Rob Manfred. Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke.— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 11, 2020
Under the proposals to start the 2020 season that we’ve seen from both sides, we see that MLB wants a sixteen-team postseason, and the MLBPA has said the same. So now we’ve gone from fourteen teams potentially being in the post season to sixteen - and the idea of having fourteen no longer seems ludicrous. Well done, MLB, you just snuck your shitty proposal right past us.. Oh, and while this has been going on, MLB and Turner just reached a $1 billion TV deal for postseason games.
What happens next?
The MLBPA gave the league until the end of day today to respond to their demands, and both sides have said they’re done making concessions. Either we’ll end up without a 2020 baseball season (highly unlikely), or we are going to end up with somewhere in the neighborhood of a half season, half pay, and expanded playoffs, as we all assumed would happen the whole time. But during all of this bickering, fans have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths. People who are unemployed due to a pandemic have zero tolerance for the petty squabbles of millionaires against the billionaires. People who have been watching their cities burn over the social unrest over the past few weeks couldn’t care less about whether teams will play 50 or 114 games. Those of us who obsess over the game are angry that they haven’t given us any concrete return dates. Oh, and let’s not forget about player/staff safety and the very real chance that the pandemic hits the teams hard, suspending the season all over again. If they don’t give us an answer soon, there won’t be a whole lot of fans left to care at all whether the season starts or not.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Can we just skip to the part where both sides agree to half the season and their fully pro-rated pay and play ball?
Marea is a contributor to TwinkieTown along with running Moonshots & Mustard.