How short a baseball season is too short a baseball season?
Major League Baseball’s latest thought as negotiations over the fate of the 2020 campaign continue: a season of only 50-something games.
Though initially reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan as an impending proposal from the league, it was later clarified by both Passan and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman that there is no intention to formally propose a shortened season but that the March agreement between the league and the union allows the league to mandate a shortened season if it sees fit.
Basically, it’s a possible route the league could take if the two parties can’t come to an agreement.
With that March agreement, the players agreed to receive prorated salaries during a season shortened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But staring at a steep drop in revenue without paying customers in the stands, the owners have insisted it is not economically feasible to pay the players that much and also stage a season that is even half the normal length.
Last week, the league proposed further pay cuts in a sliding-scale system that would have lower salaried players receiving close to their full prorated salaries and highly paid players getting hammered with pay cuts the union called massive.
The players, led by the voice of Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, said that there was no point in discussing further reductions in compensation until the owners could provide adequate proof of their financial hardships. While there would be an obvious drop in revenues due to games played without fans, there would still be revenues, perhaps a lot of them, thanks to lucrative TV contracts. But without access to that information, the players are hesitant to trust the owners’ claims.
And so they pitched more games, 114 of them, to be precise, which would theoretically allow the owners to earn more TV revenue while allowing players to earn more money in prorated salaries.
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That seems to be far too much in the estimation of the owners. As The Athletic’s Jayson Stark tweeted Monday, the owners seem to be telling the players that there is a certain amount of money available to spend on player salaries and players can either make that money over a 50-game season (with full prorated salaries) or an 82-game season (with additional pay cuts).
Reports Monday indicated the league will continue to negotiate with the union on the number of games for a 2020 season, which ESPN’s Karl Ravech assured Monday will happen.
While money remains the hottest discussion topic, let’s not forget all of this is taking place during an ongoing pandemic, and an MLB-imposed 50-game schedule would have its benefits from a health standpoint. Players, especially starting pitchers, who find a brief second round of spring training insufficient to get their bodies into game shape would have vastly more off days than normal, allowing their bodies to prepare and recover. With the red flags surrounding the league’s proposed coronavirus testing strategy, cutting down the number of days players would be going into work would cut down the opportunities for the virus to spread.
Fans, however, might not greet this possibility with those things in mind, choosing instead to focus on a season so short it would make any champion illegitimate in their minds. But another opportunity exists under those circumstances, for fans to see what baseball is like as a sprint rather than a marathon and whether that adds excitement to a game criticized for an at times glacial pace.
Throughout these discussions, there have been reports of baseball's desire to end the postseason — which is expected to be expanded from 10 teams to 14 teams, the players even including that as part of their most recent proposal — as close to the end of October as possible. The league is supposedly fearful of an increased public-health risk come fall.
Soon, with the days moving regardless of whether or not these two sides can come to an agreement, the playable window will begin shrinking, forcing the number of games in the season to shrink with it.
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