The Philadelphia Phillies and the rest of Major League Baseball could be ready to yell “Play Ball!” and begin the 2020 regular season as early as the first week in July. That according to a report this week from insider Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and key members inside his office have worked up a detailed plan. This will reportedly be submitted to the MLBPA (Players Union) this coming week following anticipated approval from the game’s owners during a conference call to be held on Monday.
“I think it’s going to happen,” one major-league executive said Wednesday per Bob Brookover at The Inquirer. “There is still a lot to be ironed out.”
There remain any number of hurdles to actually playing, of course. First, the owners must approve on Monday. Then the players would need to sign off. You can anticipate that there will need to be some negotiation involving the specifics proposed by the league.
Getting the players to sign off on a proposal that involves further pay reductions could prove a first major hurdle to getting a plan approved. If the regular season is half the length it would normally be, and with no fans to provide ticket and concession revenues, there would be a major financial hit to owners. They would almost certainly want to pass some of the burden on to the players.
Evan Drellich at The Athletic addressed this issue this past Thursday:
“As MLB zeroes in on a proposal for a return to play in 2020, the commissioner’s office and the Players Association differ on one vital point: what the sport’s revenues will look like without fans in the park.”
“The sport’s books are not publicly available, making assertions about how much a team makes — or loses — difficult to verify. The league shares some financial data with the union, which the union has the right to challenge, but those numbers do not represent the entire picture. For example, the league and teams do not share details of their media deals with the union.”
For their part, the players appear to feel that even though the owners are taking a financial hit, the players will be the ones out their actively participating amidst a pandemic and taking an even small medical risk.
“It goes back to not having fans in the stands,” MLBPA executive board member and New York Yankees catcher Chris Iannetta said in a phone interview per Jesse Rogers at ESPN. “If there’s no fans in the stands, there is an intrinsic risk that players are going to undertake. There is an intrinsic risk that support staff and coaches are going to undertake, and we should get fairly compensated for taking that risk for the betterment of the game and the betterment of the owners who stand to make a huge profit off the game.”
Even after the owners and players both finally approve a deal, which could happen within the next week or two, the next step would be ensuring that games can actually take place as the proposal anticipates, in home ballparks.
While many states have begun to open up for business, many others remain closed, some already committed to remaining closed through early June. It appears that MLB would like to open a 2-3 week spring training period in mid-June. The situation at that point in places like New York, Pennsylvania, and California will greatly affect the ability of some teams to make that happen.
Joel Sherman at the New York Post points out that “Canada, for example, currently has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country and, thus, Toronto would have to likely play its games in its spring home in Dunedin, Fla.”
The medical situation involving the COVID-19 pandemic has eased in May, as expected. It will never go away entirely, and may not be completely controlled for another year or more. If that is the case, people are going to have to live with some negative outcomes, just as they do with the flu each year. To date, roughly 79,000 people have died in America from the coronavirus while as many as 62,000 have died from the flu.
Assuming the preliminary hurdles are cleared, here are some of the highlights per Rosenthal which are anticipated to be included as part of the MLB plan:
- Regular season beginning early July with approximately 78-82 games.
- Regionalized schedule. Phillies would face teams only from the NL East (Braves, Mets, Marlins, Nationals) and AL East (Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees.)
- Playing in as many home parks as possible. Teams unable to open in their cities temporarily would relocate, either to their spring training sites or major-league parks in other parts of the country.
- No fans, at least at the beginning of the season and for the bulk of it. Television/radio/internet broadcasts not really addressed at this point, but certainly assumed.
- Rosters expanded to as many as 50 players. With the potential of Minor League Baseball not playing at all, a number of top prospects would be available to bolster MLB clubs.
- Expanded playoffs with as many as seven teams from each league advancing into the postseason rather than the current five.
While hurdles remain as stated, officials from within the game at all levels are beginning to take the responsible step of planning for some type of season. Whether it actually comes off remains to be seen, but hope seems to be greater with each passing week.