Zack Wheeler

An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

It's June 4, a month away from what would be a perfect opening day for baseball, yet on and on the financial negotiations go.

MLB unsurprisingly rejected the players' 114-game proposal and the latest reports are that the league is considering a season of 50 games.

Sounds silly, doesn't even sound like baseball, seems unlikely to happen. 

The league wants fewer games because each game will cost clubs money. Players want more games because they want a greater share of their prorated salary. The sides are at this standstill because the players thought the March agreement guaranteed them their full prorated salaries, but there was a caveat in the deal about a season without fans in stands. 

The league also wants the regular season to end by October to best avoid having to shut down amid a coronavirus surge later in the year. Postseason broadcast revenue accounts for $787 million, according to ESPN.

So, how can these sides reach a compromise? The players want their full prorated salaries. The owners could agree to that but not for 114 games, and seemingly not for 82. 

What if the league guaranteed players 75% of their prorated pay? It's not 100% like the MLBPA thought it was agreeing to in March, but is there any realistic path to 100%? A compromise is required.

Rather than pay it out over 82 games, just play 75% of that 82-game schedule. That would be 62 games of full prorated pay for players. That length, 62 games, represents about 38% of a normal 162-game season. 

For the highest-paid players, it's a big bump up from what they would have made under that designed-to-fail sliding scale proposal. Someone like Bryce Harper, with an annual average salary of $25.4 million, could earn $9.7 million. This would put Zack Wheeler in the vicinity of $9 million, Jake Arrieta $7.7 million, Andrew McCutchen $6.4 million, Aaron Nola, $4.3 million, J.T. Realmuto, $3.8 million, Rhys Hoskins $232,500.

In a 62-game schedule, the Phillies could play three series of three games against each NL East foe (36 games). They could face each of the other 10 NL teams in one series, with four of those series being two-gamers. The Phils could play two in Colorado and two in Arizona back-to-back, two in Los Angeles and two in San Diego. 

Or teams could avoid long, cross-country trips and remain on their own coast, with the Phillies playing the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox and Rays instead of the NL West.

It also could be even more division-heavy than that. For what it's worth, teams play 47% of their games inside the division in a normal season.

If the season is going to be shorter than 82 games, it also means these negotiations could extend. If you're playing 20 or 30 fewer games, that's a few more weeks to gauge the other side's willingness to bend. 

Hopefully, that is not the case and the sides act with urgency. It would do baseball a world of good to have an agreement in place in the next week or two. Build some excitement. Stir some intrigue beyond the financial discussions nobody wants to hear, think, read or write about, especially in 2020.

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Angels GM Billy Eppler recalls how badly they wanted Zack Wheeler before Phillies signed him

Angels GM Billy Eppler recalls how badly they wanted Zack Wheeler before Phillies signed him

Zack Wheeler was a hot commodity this past offseason. Every team in baseball could use another starting pitcher with No. 1 potential who has gone on ace-like runs and has a No. 3 floor.

Wheeler’s market realistically involved more teams than even Gerrit Cole’s. Not because Wheeler is better but because so many teams were immediately priced out of the market for Cole, who ended up with the Yankees on a nine-year, $324 million deal. 

Wheeler was the next best option and it wasn’t a certainty that he’d land a $100 million deal. He did, largely because of his talent but also because of supply and demand. Teams like the Twins that don’t often spend were in on Wheeler. Teams just on the other side of rebuilds like the Phillies and White Sox wanted him. 

The Angels, desperate for pitching and long believed to be a destination for Cole, wanted Wheeler bad. They couldn’t afford to finish second on both free-agent pitchers and risk wasting another year of Mike Trout’s prime. They did, missing out on Wheeler and Cole within the span of a week. 

“We pursued Wheeler pretty aggressively,” Angels GM Billy Eppler said of Wheeler in a fan Q&A posted by the Orange County Register

“A couple days before Thanksgiving, (manager Joe) Maddon, myself and (team president John) Carpino got on a plane and flew to Atlanta to meet with Zack Wheeler. We pursued Wheeler pretty aggressively. Ultimately, he and his wife expressed a desire to remain a little closer to the East Coast.”

Wheeler is a Georgia native who had not spent a season away from the East Coast since 2013 when he was at Triple A Las Vegas in the Mets’ system.

The Phillies signed Wheeler in early December to a five-year contract worth $118 million. Unfortunately for them, it looks like the first-year return on that contract will be incomplete. The Angels pivoted and signed Anthony Rendon, whose departure from the division was celebrated by NL East pitchers, pitching coaches and managers alike.

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Empty stadiums a necessity to play sports this summer, says Dr. Anthony Fauci

Empty stadiums a necessity to play sports this summer, says Dr. Anthony Fauci

Remember when LeBron scoffed at the notion of games in empty arenas and said "I ain't playing" in front of no fans?

That was only 40 days ago. Our world has changed so, so much since.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the country, said Wednesday morning that the only way we'll see sports return this summer is if they are played in empty stadiums or arenas and the players are quarantined in hotels.

"Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [the players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled," Fauci said around the 2:45 mark of this Snapchat Original video. "Have them tested every week and make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out."

No solution will be simple. One of MLB's ideas is to play the entire season with all 30 teams in Arizona. Another proposal would split the season between Florida and Arizona as in spring training.

There would be issues with any solution. Playing outdoors in Arizona in the summer is a good way to wear players out. The average temperature in Phoenix last July, for example, was 97 degrees with an average high of 108. You might say, these are professional athletes and they should be ready for any setting. But Chase Field in Arizona has a retractable roof for a reason and the surrounding spring training sites that would be hosting these games do not.

There's also the issue of separating players from their families. Unusual times lead to tough circumstances. First-year Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and his wife Dominique are expecting their first child in three months. Wheeler explained Friday that he's not willing to miss that birth if players are isolated and would be willing to miss a few weeks of baseball if he has to be quarantined after traveling and seeing his family. Could players be quarantined in hotels along with their families?

It's going to be complicated. The players are guaranteed only 4% of their 2020 salaries and many will want to not only play but play as long a regular season as possible since their salaries will be prorated.

"Only way the season might be played is with empty seats, which is no fun for anybody, but if we can get some baseball going, that's a good thing," Scott Kingery said Tuesday via Instagram.

If baseball can return this summer, it has a chance to not only serve its loyal fans but also attract many new eyeballs because of the craving for live sports.

"People say you can't play without spectators, but, well, I think you'd get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game, particularly me," Fauci said. "I'm living in Washington and we have the world champion Washington Nationals. I want to see them play again."

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