COVID-19 Roundup: The Billion-Dollar Question by Dan Szymborski May 8, 2020 This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball. MLB Explores Revenue-Sharing One of the trickiest aspects of opening the 2020 season may not be the direct effects of COVID-19 but instead how to divide up what will be a smaller-than-usual pile of cash. MLB and the MLBPA answered one question last month, coming to an agreement on the service time issues. While this decided some things in the event there is no 2020 season and no revenues to divide, the league is arguing this agreement didn’t conclusively answer what would happen if there actually is a season. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question revolves around player salaries. While the initial agreement involved pro-rating normal salaries for however many games are actually played, there’s a disagreement between MLB and the MLBPA about whether this assumed normal games with fans in attendance rather than fan-free ones. This isn’t just obscure legalese but a serious roadblock. In my opinion, teams have very real concerns about league revenues without fans in attendance, more real than the general complaints about revenue in normal seasons. The problem is, owners don’t exactly have a long history of good-faith negotiations with players. It’s not unreasonable for players to be suspicious given the games played by team owners over the years despite players seeing a declining share of the revenues while team valuations skyrocket. Evan Drellich of The Athletic has reported that MLB is exploring a revenue-sharing agreement for the 2020 season. The contours of such a deal are not clear at this time, but I think that if teams expect players to agree to significant salary cuts, this kind of transparency is absolutely necessary. And that will require open books given the large differences that have come to light in the past between claimed finances and actual ones. Will Players to Be Able to Opt-Out? Another unanswered question surrounding the start of the season is what happens to the players who feel unsafe to participate in the 2020 campaign? As a group, young athletes are generally healthier than the overall populace with access to the best healthcare, but individual players don’t necessarily make these kinds of decisions. There are players fighting cancer, players who have had heart surgery, etc., and these things make playing riskier. Players have differing family situations and varying amounts of risk aversion. Red Sox pitcher Collin McHugh doesn’t have a known medical history, but he does have a wife and two children and doesn’t wish to be isolated from them in order to play baseball in 2020. “We’re in a situation right now where you can’t make this mandatory,” the right-hander told MassLive’s Chris Cotillo during an appearance on the “Fenway Rundown” podcast. “You can’t tell a guy, ‘You have to come play or else your roster spot is not going to be here when you come back.’ You can’t tell a guy to risk his life and the life of his family and the lives of anyone he chooses to be around to come play this game. There’s probably going to have to be some waivers signed and whatever else you need to have done to make guys feel comfortable coming back.” With around 1,200 players on MLB rosters, it’s unlikely that McHugh is the only player who feels this way. Jameson Taillon, among others, has also expressed similar concerns. The NFL Makes Additional COVID-19 Plans Early on in the current pandemic, the NFL appeared to be insulated better than other sports leagues given that the Super Bowl had recently happened and games aren’t planned to start until September. But with a vaccine unlikely to be available before 2021 — there’s no guarantee there’s one in 2021 or ever — the league has had to leave themselves some schedule flexibility. If the start of the NFL season is delayed, the first four games could happen at the end of the season rather than the start, giving the league until October if necessary to actually begin. The league still envisions a season of normal length — though possibly a shorter preseason — but this could change depending on how things look in three months.