• Tommy Mumau

If MLB returns in 2020, what will it look like?

(Via ballfields.com)

There is no doubt that the world is facing unprecedented times, and Major League Baseball is no exception. The league has already delayed their season by nearly two months, and they will almost certainly be playing an abbreviated slate of games if the sport returns in 2020. 

Major League Baseball has never canceled a season, and they have only shortened six of their 151 seasons. However, this season has been put in question, due to health and safety concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well a financial dispute between the league’s owners and its players union. The dispute is regarding the owner’s proposal to split the season’s revenue 50/50, due to a shortened season without spectators. 

The conflict stems from the players’ claim that the owners are attempting to change a salary agreement that was made in late March. This agreement stated that players’ salaries would be prorated based on how many games were played in 2020. However, the owners claim that these terms were under the condition that there would be fans in the stands. 

This has generated great opposition from the players union, causing some to threaten sitting out the season. 2018 Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell says that he will not take the mound in 2020, unless he receives a reasonable salary.

“I'm not playing unless I get mine. That's just the way it is for me. Like, I'm sorry you guys think differently, but the risk is way...higher and the amount of money I'm making is way lower. Why would I think about doing that?” said Snell when answering questions on a Twitch livestream. 

The thought of losing the 2020 season concerns many baseball fans, but many notable baseball figures believe that there is still hope to see baseball this year. Commissioner Rob Manfred is optimistic that the sport will return this season.

"Me, personally, I have great confidence that we'll reach an agreement with the players association both that it's safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved," said Manfred in an interview with CNN. 

Manfred also noted that the owners’ losses could amass $4 billion if this season is not played. 

Baseball insider Jeff Passan believes that there is too much for each party to lose, for an agreement not to be made. 

Despite there being optimism toward reaching a financial agreement, there still remains the question of how this unique season would be played out. According to ESPN, the proposal from the owners contains several changes to the sport.

The season would be shortened to about half of its normal schedule, as each team would play 82 games rather than a traditional 162 game slate. The league would resume operations with a three week “spring training,” that would begin around June 10, while Opening Day would take place in early July. 

Some around the game believe that these dates may be optimistic, and that the owners provided these dates to ensure that their players would be in “baseball shape” if an early-June spring training was permitted. 

In this proposal, clubs would begin the season in their home ballparks, if permitted by government regulations. These games would take place without fans to start, with the hope that they may be allowed to attend later in the season. This decision is also based on government regulations, as well as recommendations from health officials.  

In an effort to ensure the safety of clubs by decreasing travel, teams will only play games against divisional and regional opponents. This would essentially merge the divisions in each league for the season.

For example, teams in the AL East will generally play teams from the AL East and the NL East. The only exception is that the Pirates would play in the East division, while the Braves would play in the Central division, in order to reduce travel for these clubs.

(Via sports.yahoo.com)

In terms of the game itself, the sport will likely make the designated hitter universal throughout Major League Baseball. The American League adopted the DH in 1973, while the National League has held on to the tradition of batting their pitcher. 

Prior to this season, the league increased their roster sizes from 25 to 26 players, however they are now considering expanding rosters from 26 to 30 active players for 2020. With this proposal, each team will also carry a 20-man “taxi squad” of minor leaguers.  

The owners have also proposed to alter this year’s postseason format, by including 14 teams rather than the standard 10. It appears that MLB may be experimenting with future rule changes, as this postseason format was discussed during this offseason.

If both parties come to an agreement on terms of compensation, they will then seek the approval of health officials, to ensure that the sport is safe to return. In addition to baseball-related changes, the owners have also proposed several changes to help ensure the health of their players, coaches and staff. However, many have questioned the viability of “socially distanced” baseball. 

The league plans to test its players, coaches and umpires multiple times each week, as well as requiring each person to undergo temperature checks and symptom screenings twice a day. 

In their efforts to ensure the health of all parties involved, the players, coaches and umpires will be discouraged from taking batting practice indoors, exchanging lineup cards, sitting next to each other in the dugout, taking public transportation and leaving the hotel. 

The owners have also proposed to encourage social distancing by encouraging players to stay six feet apart from each other at all times, including in the clubhouse and the dugout. This may be implemented by having players sit in the stands rather than the dugout. 

Along with these significant restrictions, they will also be prohibited from: spitting sunflower seeds, touching their faces while relaying signs and high fiving among other activities. These restrictions have prompted many to question if it is realistic for the league to play the season in a safe manner. 

The sport also faces opposition from baseball purists, who are against altering the sport for the season. Many question what the quality of the shortened season will be, and if this season’s champion will be recognized as legitimate. 

On the other side of the coin, a large portion of the country would love to see America’s Pastime return to provide people with hope during this challenging time. Commissioner Manfred conveyed that his office has received many calls, letters and emails from fans that want the sport to return. 

Major League Baseball has the opportunity to give the country something to look forward to during a time when many are looking for relief. The country now awaits a decision on the first step for this relief, as negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association are ongoing.  

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