On Monday, the cautious optimist in all of us got to hope there would be major league baseball in 2020, with Rob Manfred implementing a 60-game season contingent on the players confirming that they would report to team camps on July 1 and agree to the health and safety protocols required to move the season forward. Although the 5 PM deadline for the players to respond passed without word on Tuesday, the MLBPA later confirmed that “All remaining issues have been resolved and Players are reporting to training camps.” While there is still a pandemic to contend with, one that will alter the game and could still cause it to stall out, it appears the disagreements between the players and the owners over economic questions will not further impede a 2020 baseball season.
MLB also made its own announcement, revealing a July 23 or 24 Opening Day, with some additional information about the potential schedule:
MLB has submitted a 60-game regular season schedule for review by the Players Association. The proposed schedule will largely feature divisional play, with the remaining portion of each Club’s games against their opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (i.e., East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West), in order to mitigate travel. The vast majority of Major League Clubs are expected to conduct training at the ballparks in their primary home cities.
The full schedule is expected within 72 hours, though Jon Heyman has reported there will be 40 games in-division (10 games vs. each division opponent) and 20 games against teams in the opposite league’s corresponding geographic division. Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reports that teams will play four games each against their interleague opponents and will make just one visit to all of their opponents during the season.
Along with the schedule, there’s been a steady flow of information on new in-game rules, the trade deadline, and perhaps the issue causing a delay — whether players living with individuals at high risk of complication from COVID-19 can opt out of the season and receive service time and salary. It was a known issue of contention as recently as Monday, with the league unwilling to accommodate the players’ request. There are conflicting reports on the resolution to this matter, as Bob Nightengale reported the league relented but Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal reported no exceptions were made. The operations manual itself contains a section on players deemed to be at high-risk and allows them to go on the injured list, where they would receive pay and service time. There is a section immediately following that covering high-risk family members, but given that similar provisions are not included in that section, it’s fair to conclude a similar injured list mechanism is not available to players in that circumstance.
The trade deadline will be August 31, per Jayson Stark. He also added the following:
Here come more adjusted rules for 2020:
*Transactions freeze ends this Friday at noon ET
*Teams must submit 60-man player pool names by Sunday at 3 ET
*In-person scouting will be allowed.
*Teams can take up to 3 taxi squad players on road (but if 3, one must be a catcher) https://t.co/Og6Ix7TBeE
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) June 23, 2020
Here’s Jeff Passan on the injured list:
While the regular injured list will be for 10 days in 2020, MLB is expected to institute a special COVID-19-related injured list for players who test positive, have confirmed exposure or are exhibiting symptoms. Players would not have a specific number of days to spend on it.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 23, 2020
Passan also passed along this expectoration — er, I mean, expectation:
Genuinely curious to see how this is enforced. Will there be spitspensions? pic.twitter.com/19820xNODr
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 24, 2020
And here we thought the three batter minimum rule was what would get rid of LOOGY’s.
If you haven’t heard about a wet rag, get ready to hear about a wet rag:
Proposed MLB rule changes for 2020:
* Implementation of DH in both leagues
* Extra innings start with runner on second base
* No limits on position players pitching
* Pitchers can have wet rag in pocket as substitute for licking fingers
* Three-batter minimum still stands
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) June 23, 2020
And if necessary, games will be moved for health and safety reasons:
MLB has the right to relocate teams during the regular season to neutral sites for health and safety reasons, including the postseason
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 24, 2020
More details will trickle out over the next few hours and days, but the most important news is that players are expected to report on July 1, the season will start three weeks later, and if all goes well, we’ll have a 60-game regular season and a postseason that has its usual format.
There is going to be a lot of discussion of the past few months of acrimony between the players and the owners, about what did happen and what might have been. It’s fair to call the last month or so a lost opportunity for the sport, one that both delayed the return of baseball and pulled focus from the more urgent question of whether it is safe to play in the midst of a pandemic at all. There was a lot of talk about an expanded postseason, economic feasibility, doubleheaders, regular season games in October, and neutral sites. Ultimately, the parties came to an agreement back in March and opted to abide by that agreement.
It’s fair to criticize the owners for dragging their feet. They raised the specter of renegotiating the March agreement with a pay cut, but were never fully forthcoming regarding the necessity to do so, and waited more than a month to even make an offer. Their first two offers slashed guaranteed pay by around 50% from the pro-rated March figures, and they didn’t offer a guarantee above 50 pro-rated games until one week ago. It’s possible the plan was a delay tactic, but as I posited last week, it seems the owners wanted either a great deal or a short schedule:
For the owners, this mode of negotiation appeared to be a win-win. Either run out the clock and pay less, or hope the union agreed to a deal with huge cuts that would provide more money to the owners. MLBPA’s response — to a shortened schedule and to any offers not significantly better than the threatened pro-rated 50-game slate — has thrown a wrench in those plans. Demanding more discussion or that the players agree not to proceed with a grievance gets the owners slightly back on track, but they are clearly still concerned about the potential for a grievance, which might provide more transparency into the owners’ finances and comes with the threat of hundreds of million of dollars in awards to the players.
The threat of a grievance likely helped bring about the 60-game schedule as opposed to a schedule with as few as 48 games, as was floated earlier in the month. A 12-game difference in the 2020 slate means $300 million more for the players. By voting down the league’s proposal, the players did not give up their rights to a grievance and held on to valuable expanded postseason rights. As pointed out in MLB’s press release, the league was offering just $58 million for expanded postseason over the next two years for a waiver of that grievance. It still seems shortsighted for the owners not to have responded to the players’ offer of 70 games, which included two years of expanded postseason, two years of advertising on jerseys, and the waiver of a grievance. Adding six games would have cost under $2 million per team, without even factoring in national television revenue. There’s still the possibility that the two sides agree on expanded postseason in the next month, but it seems likely to cost the owners a lot more than $58 million.
But how we got here is not as important as what happens next. The players and teams are going to try their best to get a baseball season in, and for fans, that is a very welcome development. The pandemic that has affected all of our lives will still make playing difficult, if not impossible, but the players and the league have a plan. After the last two months, cautious optimism feels pretty good.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.