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What it will take for MLB to return in 2020

What it will take for MLB to return in 2020

Is it possible to dawdle and sprint at the same time? Major League Baseball is working on it.

The first week of June is ticking to a close. Baseball does not have a plan for how to go forward. It has multiple points to bicker over, negative public comments floating about and an uncooperative calendar staring back.

It can also look left and see the NHL with a plan. To the right is the NBA with a plan. In between, baseball stands alone, petulant and being viewed as petty.

The hurdles of planning a season this week are the same as the week before and week before that. Society is wading through an undulating portion of history. But, the base issues for baseball still rest in revenue, health and games played, the latter an offshoot and driver for the two former.

Health: Progressively less has been discussed about this topic since MLB sent a problematic 67-page proposal more than two weeks ago. Requirements within the proposal ranged from no spitting to players sitting apart from each other in the stands. New baseballs, it said, were needed if multiple people touched one. Multiple coronavirus tests would be taken each week. Temperature tests would occur multiple times each day. On and on.

What the proposal lacked was daily testing. That’s an instant fail. It also does not include a punishment mechanism. If Max Scherzer licks his fingers on the mound, is he thrown out? Is a ball called? If someone accidentally high-fives a teammate, what then?

Players are also concerned about not having access to physical therapy devices such as hot and cold tubs. Weight room access is necessary, but must be spread out. Expansive logistical complications exist.

All of the protocols need to be repeated -- as safely as possible -- 1,215 times if the league plays an 81-game season. Opportunity for a season-crashing mistake is abundant.

Revenue: No one wants to hear about this. Not now. Unemployment skyrocketed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many workers who did not fully lose their jobs at least received a reduction in pay or hours. More economic complications are to come around the bend when companies assess their balance sheets in the remaining fiscal quarters of 2020.

Which makes this category a difficult public relations space for players. They want fans and others to understand multiple things: first, they are sensitive to the problems for the “average” worker; second, this is an employee-employer dynamic, even if it deals with eye-popping numbers; last, they foremost want to play and do their job, which is the underlying point of all of this.

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However, their sympathy from the public will be limited if it exists at all. Baseball players -- who are operating in a league with a minimum salary of $563,500 --are financially unrelatable. The counter to that is they are paid according to the revenue created. This is flatly true. No owner is paying Scherzer $210 million because the money is not there. It is. The math works. It’s just too astronomical for any form of widespread understanding, let alone pity.

The current debate between players and owners will have ramifications now and in 2021, when the existing collective bargaining agreement ends. The players believe their 2020 salary negotiation and give has ended. The owners want further cuts to push back their pending losses from a shorter season without fans (Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to ESPN: “The league itself does not make a lot of cash.”). The players don’t trust the owners. The owners want to suppress the players’ wages. So, here they are, butting heads once again.

Games: The players suggested 114 games, the league did not technically counter, though it started a process to argue for a 50-game season. In between would be 82. It remains the most likely outcome if they are to play.

What is becoming more clear is baseball in November is unlikely. The owners have spoken with fervor on that topic in the same manner players have spoken about further salary cuts.

Here’s Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick during a radio appearance earlier in the week:

“We don’t want to take the risk of putting our players at jeopardy and our game in peril to be playing games beyond the end of October. So our model is and will never be changed that we will not be playing baseball in the month of November or later.”

Here’s Scherzer to NBC Sports Washington in late March:

“I think once you get into the playoffs in November, those games have to be at neutral sites. Playoff series at the beginning of November have to be neutral sites because you have to be able to guarantee weather. The teams in the north, once you get into November, the weather can be too cruel for baseball. So, this isn’t a permanent thing. But this is just what we have to do to be able to play baseball and try to get as many games in.”

Those are not the same ideas.

And, games may be the ultimate tether. When they increase, revenue increases. When they increase, risk increases.

For now, the schedule has zero of them. Same as last week. Same as the week before.

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Which Nationals would have been named All-Stars in a normal season?

Which Nationals would have been named All-Stars in a normal season?

July 14, 2020 was supposed to be a day for celebrating the best players in Major League Baseball. The 2020 MLB All-Star Game, set to take place that evening at Dodger Stadium, had the promise of putting some of the biggest names on display such as Mookie Betts in his new LA threads, Gerrit Cole still fresh off signing a $324 million deal last winter and Mike Trout from only a few miles down the road.

However, the coronavirus pandemic had other plans. MLB suspended spring training on March 12 and spent three months on hold before ultimately settling on a 60-game season that begins July 23. As a result, there will be no All-Star Game for the first time since 1945.

The Nationals, coming off their first World Series title in franchise history, have plenty of stars who would’ve merited consideration. Even with 2019 NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon departing for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency, there’s no shortage of talent in D.C.

Here are the players that stood the best chance of representing the Nationals in this year’s All-Star Game.

The favorites

SP Max Scherzer

Name value alone could’ve gotten him in if fans could vote on pitchers, but even a 35-year-old Scherzer can’t be counted out of making another run at the NL Cy Young.

SP Stephen Strasburg,

The reigning World Series MVP is already a three-time All-Star and coming off an offseason in which he signed a seven-year, $245 million deal to return to Washington.

LF Juan Soto

Making his first All-Star team would seem like something of a formality for Soto, who has already established himself as one of the game’s best young stars.

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Needed a career year

SP Patrick Corbin

Corbin was given the Warren Spahn Award for the best left-hander in baseball last season and is no stranger to the Midsummer Classic. If he could’ve avoided the infrequent implosion (five starts of 5+ runs allowed in 2019) on the mound, he stood a good chance of posting numbers worthy of a selection.

RP Sean Doolittle

With Will Harris and Daniel Hudson in the fold, Doolittle wouldn’t have been relied on as much as he was last season. By getting more rest and still handling closer duties for a contending team, Doolittle certainly would’ve been in the running.

SS Trea Turner

No broken finger holding him back, Turner had a chance to show he can help replace some of Rendon’s production in what would’ve been his age-27 season. Shortstop is a deep position in the NL (Trevor Story, Javier Báez, Fernando Tatís Jr., Corey Seager) but Turner has to make it one of these years, right?

2B Starlin Castro

Castro may not be the first player who comes to mind when you hear “four-time All-Star” but that’s what happens when a young, healthy infielder plays every day during a rebuild. However, coming off a 2019 second half in which he hit .302 with 16 home runs, Castro came to D.C. looking to show he’s developed into a different kind of player.

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If he made the leap

CF Victor Robles

Though it’s a bit of a long shot considering his struggles at the plate as a rookie, Robles has always displayed the tools that make coaches dream of what he can become. As he gains a few more pounds—Robles is one of the strongest players on the team—and improves his plate discipline, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.

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Nationals scene and heard: Max Scherzer grunting through his work

Nationals scene and heard: Max Scherzer grunting through his work

WASHINGTON -- Come inside Nationals Park -- through words.

The Nationals began intrasquad games Monday night. They played five innings, the park was empty, and the whole thing remains odd.

But, we’ll try to give you some in-the-park insight, both small and large, as the team creeps toward a season. And we’ll start with Monday night.

-- The first intrasquad game featured Max Scherzer and Austin Voth as the starters. Scherzer’s final line and general orneriness indicated he was not far from being ready for the July 23 opener: 67 pitches, four innings, two hits, one walk, nine strikeouts, zero earned runs.

The opposing lineup was not Stanton, Judge and Co. It was more of the Nationals’ ‘B’ squad. Regardless, his execution was crisp from the start. Scherzer struck out Wilmer Difo to start the five-inning mock game.

The only extra-base hit against him was a double down the third-base line by Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki -- who has intimate knowledge of Scherzer’s preferred sequencing -- struck out in his next at-bat. He looked out at the mound, Scherzer said something to him, turned his head, Suzuki said something back, Scherzer turned back to say something else. Making the proverbial dinner plans, apparently.

-- Voth is after the No. 5 starter spot, a competition he has been part of for the last year-plus. It will be him or Erick Fedde in the rotation. Whoever is not among the front five will be in the bullpen to start. Davey Martinez said Voth’s velocity was good (there is a person holding a radar gun behind the plate, but the numbers are not posted on the scoreboard). The pair will pitch again Saturday when Philadelphia comes to Nationals Park for the first exhibition game. Scherzer will start. Voth will follow. Scherzer remains lined up to start the opener against New York and Gerrit Cole on July 23.

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-- Sean Doolittle pitched Monday, too. His inning went quickly. Two things to note: Doolittle had to jog in from the bullpen because there is no bullpen cart to use. Second, he put a long, sleeve-like mask on the back of the mound when he arrived. Once the inning was over, Doolittle pulled it on as he walked toward the dugout.

-- Stephen Strasburg held a front-row seat to watch Scherzer and Voth pitch. Aníbal Sánchez was a handful of rows behind Strasburg and decided to dance in his shorts and shower shoes between innings. He was also the game’s lead heckler.

-- Starlin Castro appears destined for the No. 3 spot in the order, as expected in spring training. Juan Soto’s return -- whenever it happens -- could influence that. But, for now, the top of the lineup appears situated: Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Castro and Eric Thames. Pop Soto in Thames’ place to bump him down a spot. Though Soto-Thames presents back-to-back left-hander hitters, Soto’s splits and talent make the concern mostly moot. Soto is effective enough against left-handed pitchers. And the Nationals would try to find another right-handed bat to replace Thames if a left-handed starter was on the mound. One option after Ryan Zimmerman’s decision not to play and Howie Kendrick still not with the team could be Jake Noll.

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-- Silence remains one of the strangest things about the setting. When Castro tapped his bat on the plate, it could be heard way up in the press box (at the 400 level). Other teams, like Houston, are piping in fake fan noise. One reporter said it just sounded like "a loud air conditioner." Martinez said they are considering everything.

-- The Nationals are short on players. So, 53-year-old Jeff Garber, the Nationals’ co-field coordinator/Infield coordinator for the minor leagues, grabbed a glove and ventured out to right field. He made two catches and butchered another fly ball. Garber was drafted as an infielder by Kansas City in the 10th round in 1988. He ended up playing eight years in the minor leagues, making it to Triple-A four times. He never made his way onto a major-league field as a player. But, he will always have his stint in right field Monday.

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