This is a big week for baseball. The trial balloons are over. An actual proposal to play the 2020 season has been voted on and approved by owners and will now go to the players.
Stating the obvious, health is and will continue to be the most important issue during a potential baseball season. But there are plenty of other issues to discuss, too, which is what the owners and players are doing this week. With that in mind, here are five thoughts on the reported proposal on the table:
1. The economics continue to be a challenge. The proposal approved by owners includes a 50-50 revenue share, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. The MLBPA has always been reluctant to accept a revenue-sharing plan because it typically leads to a salary cap. One source with knowledge of Monday’s proposal immediately voiced pessimism that such a plan will fly, telling NBC Sports Chicago it is “doomed to fail.”
The issue with a revenue-sharing plan — like the NFL and NBA have — is that it sets both a floor and a ceiling on what the players can earn. Under this proposal, the players would essentially have access to half of the money that ends up coming in this year. With 2020 revenue projections nearly impossible to project, you can understand why owners would like to put a limit on the piece of pie the players can draw their paychecks from. But the MLBPA already agreed to prorate their salaries based on the number of games played this season, and they will continue to argue that they shouldn’t have to cut their salaries further to adjust for lost revenue at the gate. They’ll also argue that if teams operate at a deficit in 2020, that it is much easier for the owners to recoup their lost money over time than the players, whose careers are shorter.
There’s also major skepticism from the players that teams are actually in danger of operating at deficit in 2020. The teams don’t share their books with the players' union, and the two sides greatly disagree on the percentage of revenue that comes in at the gate from tickets, concessions, parking, etc. One source said the teams would argue that the number is around 50 percent of total revenue, while the MLBPA — without access to the books — would argue that number is far lower, perhaps as low as 30 percent. The truth is, it varies by team, and USA Today reported “MLB officials say that teams are expected to lose about 40 percent of their gross revenue from ticket sales, concessions and parking.”
Ultimately, if the players agree to an additional pay cut, the argument over that percentage will likely be at the crux of the discussions.
2. Put me down for an 82-game season. That’s the approximate number of games included in this proposal, according to numerous reports. Fewer games means a lower risk of players or clubhouse personnel testing positive. If the season begins on July 1, as has been reported, MLB can maintain its normal calendar — avoiding additional doubleheaders — and perhaps increasing the chances of a normal 2021 season if vaccines are available by next spring.
I have long been advocating for a shorter baseball season. It would fix a lot of the weather issues teams have in April, and I believe it would make the season more exciting in a society that has an attention span that continues to shrink. The length of games and even pace of play are not an issue when the games are exciting and matter. But they are an issue when its 49 degrees in Chicago and the White Sox are playing a Thursday afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Rays, as would have been the case May 7.
Of course, as we discussed in the first section of this column, chopping games off the schedule means less revenue at the gate, which is a problem. I’ve always wondered, though, would a shorter season mean more exciting games and higher TV ratings? If the season is more of a sprint than a marathon, would more fans show up to games in markets that don’t typically sell out?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I’d love to find out.
The sweet spot for me would be 120 games. Unfortunately, an 82-game season with zero fans in the stands won’t answer all of these questions, but it still could give MLB food for thought — especially if television ratings explode.
3. Keeping the same divisions is good. It was fun dreaming about realignment and 12 White Sox-Cubs games this summer, but it was also a bummer to imagine the White Sox only being able to face the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. I, for one, am forecasting that rivalry to spark up again this year.
The proposal reportedly being discussed has the White Sox only playing games against the American League Central and National League Central divisions. It’s a good compromise. Divisional games are important, and while there’s a drawback to not seeing players like Mike Trout this year, playing the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals six times each will be entertaining. Remember, fans won’t be in the ballparks anyway, so it’s not like there’s an issue with teams not visiting Chicago in 2020. This is a made-for-TV season and Interleague games are more entertaining to watch than a 9 p.m. CT start in Oakland or any game at Tropicana Field.
4. The universal DH would be smart. I’m not sure it’s necessary without realignment, but if 38 percent of the games are going to be Interleague games, it would make sense to keep the rules equal. The White Sox were scheduled to play 10 road games without the DH in 2020 or 6.2 percent of their total schedule. Under the proposed schedule, the White Sox could have been in a situation where they were set to play 15 road games without the DH. With only 82 games on the schedule, that’s 18.3 percent of the season. If I’m an American League GM paying a designated hitter like Edwin Encarnacion big money, I’m not thrilled about not having the DH in nearly 20 percent of my games.
On the flip side, rosters are going to be expanded significantly, so National League teams will have plenty of options to use as a designated hitter if they adopt it for the entire season. It’s just more logical for National League teams to use those additional players in the DH spot than to have American League pitchers do something they aren’t trained to do for a fifth of the season.
If nothing else, why not try it? Those hesitant to the idea of the universal DH would at least get to see it in practice. The 2020 season presents an opportunity to experiment and MLB should take advantage.
5. Expanded playoffs? Sure, why not? Again, I’m not sure it’s completely necessary, but I do understand why some believe an 82-game regular season wouldn’t accurately decide which teams are most worthy of competing for a World Series. Fine. A 14-team playoff means more games in a season that is robbing us of so much baseball. Plus, it’s a win for the White Sox, shoving the competitive window wide open right now.