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MLB Roundtable: Salvaging a Lost Season

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

COVID-19 has affected every human on Earth. Chances are you know someone who has had it, and unfortunately, there's a decent chance you know someone who has passed away as a result of the virus. Sports are not very important in the grand scheme of things. However, a return to sports will signify that a return to normal life is just around the corner. We aren't there yet, and it often doesn't even feel as though we're particularly close. But sports will resume at some point, even if it's not in 2020. I gathered a few of our baseball deprived bloggers to get their thoughts on how Major League Baseball might move forward when this begins to fade away.

0) First off, how are you doing? How are you handling quarantine life?

Trevor Goldstein, Blog VP: What's up Josh! I had to come home from my abroad program in Singapore and now I'm stuck at home but things could be worse!

Anna Clemson: I’m doing pretty well all things considered. I definitely miss baseball/sports though. I’ve been reading and watching TV shows (I’m almost done with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” which I’ve really enjoyed!) to pass the time. I hope you’re all doing alright!

Max Delbello: Bored. No March Madness and now no baseball is tough. Life without sports is not very fun.

Nate Mayor: I have been trying to do a lot of yard work, school work, and anything I can get my hands on to distract me and pass time. I am pretty bored like I imagine everyone is and am just trying to make it through this with my sanity. The lack of sports hurts but the Bleacher Report and ESPN reruns of games help a little. It was nice to rewatch my Cavaliers comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals the other day and it's been interesting to see how sports have grown over the years by watching the older games. 

1) What are your thoughts on players getting service time even if no games are played this season? (Could be great for playings getting closer to free agency, but bad for teams. Betts may never play a game for LAD but they gave up all those assets)

TG: If we get a shortened season then earning a full year's service time is fair because a champion will still be crowned at the end of the season. I think that players earning a year of service time if no season is ever played is ridiculous. The Betts trade pushes this point home, as the Dodgers will have received nothing for a trade they were widely applauded for. Also, reaching free agency will really only help the superstars who were set to be free agents like Mookie or J.T. Realmuto. The middle class of free agents probably will once again be struggling to secure deals, especially because I think the year of lost revenue for teams will have them playing cheap. Lastly, one detail of this is that players like Vladdy Jr. who did not secure a full year of service time in 2019 will not get a year tacked on, which just shows how arbitrary of a measure this was.

AC: Given the fact that teams have historically taken advantage of the way service time works by holding players in the minors for the first few weeks of the season to get another year of team control (i.e. Kris Bryant), players should not be penalized for something completely out of their control. Although this is also out of teams’ control, they will already be paying players a pro-rated salary. It would push the business cycle of teams up one year, but players would likely be hurt more if they didn’t get service time since they’re not earning their full salary this year. They are growing older so they would be penalized with less interest in contracts if they had to wait a whole additional year. Younger players who are still riding out their initial contracts would also be severely penalized because they rely on signing their next contract to get a boost in salary that better represents their value as a player.

MD: It’s obviously great for the players and terrible for the teams and owners. The players and MLBPA really wanted this as part of the deal. While they got service time to count if no games are played, they sacrificed in other areas such as the draft. Players like Mookie Betts, JT Realmuto, and George Springer will all be free agents when they are supposed to be, and one year earlier of free agency normally means a lot more money for the players. However, teams looking to win now traded valuable prospects and players with more control for soon to be free agents. The Dodgers gave up a lot for Mookie Betts, and he may never play for them. The Reds, my favorite team, gave up a top prospect last summer for Trevor Bauer, who will also be a free agent after this year. I think this hurts the Reds more than the Dodgers, because the Reds are a small-market team that was trying to compete this year. The Reds don’t necessarily have the money to compete with teams like the Dodgers for many free agents. They also signed Mike Moustakas, Nicholas Castellanos, and Shogo Akiyama to multi-year deals this offseason. The Reds paid a lot of money for those three, but the hope was that they would produce enough in the first couple of years to make the multi-year deal worth it. Well, now the Reds might lose the first year of those deals completely. Trevor Bauer is an interesting case, because a year of service time might actually hurt him. He struggled in 2019 and was looking for a strong bounce back season in 2020 before free agency. Teams might look at 2019 and hesitate to give him a big contract. Overall, the service time part of the agreement really hurts teams, but it allows players to reach free agency earlier, which for most players means more money. Even as a Reds fan, I understand why the players wanted service time to count.

NM: I think players should be given some sort of compensation in terms of service time for this season no matter what. Either way, they are giving up a year of their career and development this year and they should not be punished by the circumstances we are living in. However, this could also hurt some players who are on the cusp of their major league roster. For instance, the other week the Indians owner sent Bradley Zimmer, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale to the club's minor league teams in order to avoid giving them service time for the absent season. Zimmer was set to return to his spot as a starting outfielder this season or be a rotation player for the Indians and both Plesac and Civale were most definitely going to feature in the Indians starting pitcher rotation. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, they may have a year of service time ripped away from them solely because they're technically on the minor league team this year.

2) When is the latest you'd be okay with the season starting before cancelling becomes a better option? (MLB doesn't have much room to move the season back because of weather. Are you okay with a season starting August 1 and playing two months before playoffs begin?)

TG: I would be happy with an August 1 start date, a shortened regular season, and playoffs into December. Fingers crossed though that baseball will be back before then. STAY INSIDE!

AC: August 1 is probably the latest I would be willing to push the season. Although MLB does run into problems with weather, I think that they could decide to extend the regular season into mid-October (or even late October) and then play the post season at neutral sites with warmer weather if it came to that. If they decide to do this, the biggest limiting factor is a sufficient off season for players to recover and jamming too many games into a short period of time. A roster expansion for this season could help prevent players from being over-used and then MLB/MLBPA would have to determine how long of an off season is necessary. Although this wouldn’t be ideal, I think that if possible, they should try to play. Teams and players need the money and players need to play live games to remain elite competitors. On a less businessy note, I also think that the general public would benefit from a distraction like baseball if we can get this pandemic under control and it is safe to play.

MD: I would be okay starting as late as August. MLB can extend the postseason into November if needed. Most cities can handle baseball into mid-November, and neutral site playoff games are a possibility. With an August start date, teams could play as few as 50 regular season games. Such a short regular season allows more teams to compete, and the best teams will not necessarily come out on top. For this reason, MLB needs to be open to expanding the playoffs for just this year.

NM: I think my answer to this question definitely depends on how long of a season they have. For instance, if it starts in August and ends by mid to late November I would be somewhat okay with it. However, any circumstance in which the MLB goes past November would be unacceptable for me as a fan because it would either mean games would be played in the snow for northern teams or those teams would have to play their home games somewhere south which would also be unfair. I would love to see the MLB return sometime in July and have the playoffs start in early October. Whether or not this goal is achievable is still yet to be seen. 

3) How do you view agreed upon changes to the draft, specifically the decrease in rounds (to potentially 5) and undrafted players being limited to $20,000 signing bonuses? 

TG: I dislike this for multiple reasons. Realistically, these terrible signing bonuses will hinder the ability for minor league players to stay in the game for financial reasons. The signing bonus extends the life they have on their pitiful salaries, and without them many players are going to have to postpone their dreams or call it quits early. However, and this is huge, I think this is a big plot to finally downsize the minor leagues, which I hate. If less players are being drafted, signed and staying for less time, it will lead to emptier minor league rosters, and that will call for cuts. I do not know how financially screwed the US will be as a whole in the next couple of years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but if cutting teams and many fans' source of cheap baseball pleasure is required, then so be it. But it really should not be when we see all the billionaire owners and huge TV revenue deals at the top level.

AC: There is really no good solution to adjust the draft this year. Fortunately, they have agreed not to cancel the draft altogether, which would be the worst solution. However, the current plan seems to be very bad for amateur players. In reality, this plan is more than just a reaction to the COVID-19, it is representative of MLB’s goals with the draft going forward. With fewer rounds players are going to be fighting to get playing time on college rosters and graduating high schoolers will have to scramble to figure out what to do next if they were planning to go pro. At the same time, it would be unreasonable to have a full 40 round draft because scouts just can’t really observe talent in the present circumstances and whenever the draft does happen, players won’t have had time to get back to peak performance. Unfortunately for amateur players there is really no good solution for them.

MD: The changes to the draft are a disaster for amateur players. The biggest change is the likely decrease of rounds from 40 to 5 in 2020 and 40 to 20 in 2021. The changes to the draft help teams and owners save money on incoming amateur players. MLBPA agreed to this because they don’t represent players until they make the majors. A five round draft means that more high school prospects will go to college. Essentially, MLB doesn’t have to pay for the development of those high school players for the next few years. They will go to college, and the best will stand out enough to get drafted in 2023. This hurts players because they lose out on the signing bonus they were expecting. College juniors are hurt the most, because many of them probably passed up decent signing bonuses out of high school to play in college. If they don’t go in the first five rounds now, they will be stuck signing for $20,000 or waiting until next year, when, as a senior, they will not get a bonus any bigger than $20,000. A draft with fewer rounds also hurts teams. A lot of players currently in MLB were drafted later than the 5th round. We will see more undrafted players signed than ever before. The changes to the draft are also a great way for MLB to follow through on their plan to eliminate lower level minor league times. If MLB starts this year, they will need higher level minor leagues (maybe only at spring training facilities). However, lower level teams, especially teams in rookie and short-season leagues, likely won’t have a season. With only five rounds, there won’t be enough new players to fill these teams, and they will struggle to stay alive without a season. MLB will then have an easier path to eliminating them for the future. I hate the idea of eliminating minor league baseball, and this part of the agreement will help that happen. It is also a terrible deal for all amateurs from future first round picks losing bonus money to players just hoping to get drafted.

NM: I think the changes to the draft are going to greatly hurt incoming players. The MLB draft is often criticized for being too long as it is 40 rounds. In comparison to other leagues, this seems excessive and ridiculous, but when you consider how many players are needed for a baseball roster and the fact that every MLB team has at least 3 minor league affiliate teams, it is quite reasonable. As a result, a 5 round draft will mean hundreds of talented players will go undrafted and be underpaid because of it. Additionally, minor league players already struggle with low wages, so putting an extremely low cap on signing bonuses for the hundreds of undrafted players will mean they will have to work jobs on the side or scramble to get bills paid. 

4) What do you think the impact of having a talented pool of undrafted players will be? Do small market teams need protections in order to compete for these players (despite the bonus limit)?

TG: I think this will give teams more time to scout players, and the smarter teams will win this battle. Players drafted after the fifth round make the pros all the time, so it would be foolish to ignore this group. Smaller teams should not need protections here because of the signing caps and the money they will have saved from not participating in a 40 round draft.

AC: This is the most important aspect of the bonus limit; small market teams need some sort of protection to draw from this talented pool. I’m not sure that any additional limitations could really help. Perhaps they could try to limit the number of players a team could sign, but I think that would just hurt amateur players more so it wouldn’t be worth it. The most important thing for them to gain from the talented pool of undrafted players will be to sell their resources to help those players get better. Large market teams are certainly better off, but they can always pay up for the most expensive players so small market teams will just have to do what they always do and rely on their merits to draw players with something to offer.

MD: The $20,000 signing bonus limit seems to be the protection for small market teams to compete for undrafted players. It will likely turn into teams trying to recruit players. The money will be the same everywhere, but it will be about what a team can offer the player. Small market teams are not really at a big disadvantage. Rather, teams that are well known and successful like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers have an advantage. Teams with a strong player development history are also going to be able to get more players. If money is the issue, why not extend the new five-round draft by another five to ten rounds with only $20,000 attached to each pick after the fifth round? That would only commit teams to spending an additional $100,000 to $200,000, and, most importantly, it would ensure competitive balance of incoming amateur players.

NM: I think a lot of the Juniors in college who could go to the draft this year will be staying in school one more year in order to get drafted in 2021 and avoid being an undrafted free agent. Similarly, those talented high school players who go directly into the minors out of high school will be far more likely to look to colleges as an option due to the changes. However, those talented seniors in college and other players who decide to risk it in the open market will be less likely to sign with the big market teams than they would be in the past due to the new rules. While the bonus limit will help small-market teams compete, it also leaves the players with less money which will become a problem the MLB will have to deal with soon.

5) Do you see a path to baseball in 2020? If so, what does it look like (neutral sites, doubleheaders, fewer playoff teams, etc.)? Or, should we start focusing on 2021?

TG: I'm hoping that July 1st will roll around and the season will be ready to go, maybe it is 162 games with double headers and a late postseason in warm venues, maybe it is not 162 but we still get a champion come the winter time. Realistically, August 1st sounds nice, with games possibly behind closed doors for the season. We are still in the beginning stages of this pandemic, but if everything breaks right I think July 1st could be it.

AC: I think we will see baseball come back in 2020. It will be an abridged season, probably without fans for a while, but I think it will be back. I hope that they consider limiting it to just one wild card team to allow more regular season play. If the regular season doesn’t start until after the all-star break (which is looking more and more likely), they may consider pushing the regular season into October and then playing the postseason at neutral sites where weather permits for baseball. In terms of cramming in games with double headers and fewer off-days, they will have to consider a roster expansion to protect players from injury due to the long period without play and a reduced pre-season.

MD: Yes, I still see a path to baseball in 2020. At this point, there is probably a 50/50 chance the season is played, but everyone involved wants to play baseball and get as many games in as possible. The owners want revenue, and the players want their salary. Player salary will be prorated, which means the more games played, the more money players will make. At this point, my ideal path to baseball probably starts in July with a 2 week “spring” training. Depending on how the coronavirus is at that point, regular season games could either be played with or without fans. If fans are not yet able to attend games, it makes sense to start the regular season at spring training parks. If fans are able to attend games, then the league can play 60-80 regular season games at normal stadiums with scheduled doubleheaders to allow for all the games in such a short time. Interleague play will obviously be eliminated, and each team should play one series against every other team in their league outside their division. I think baseball could be played this year with a regular season as short as 50 games. 5 games vs each division opponent and 3 game vs rest of league. A 50-game season might seem short, but it would be exciting, ever game would matter, and more teams would compete for a playoff spot than ever before. Hopefully there are a lot more than 50 games, but with how quickly things are changing, it is hard to predict exactly when baseball should start. As I mentioned before, the playoffs should also be expanded and potentially extended into November to account for the shorter regular season. A 16-team playoff would allow more teams to compete and would only require one additional week of playoffs for a five-game series.

NM: I think that baseball can be played in 2020. In order for this to happen, I think it would have to be with a shortened schedule and absolutely no fans. Something interesting the MLB could consider doing is to minimize the travel of the teams by centralizing all of the games in one or multiple cities. For instance, the English Premier League is considering finishing their season by quarantining all of the players on a college campus or in one area similar to an Olympic village to minimize the spread of the disease and eliminate all travel. This would keep the players safe and allow them to play out the entire season quickly. It's pretty unlikely the MLB or the players would want to do something like this but we will have to see what happens in the coming months.

5a) Each team will play _____ games this season.

TG: 108, 2/3 of a normal season, probably filled with double headers to cram it all in. 

AC: 81

MD: 70

NM: Somewhere between 0 games and 81 (a shortened schedule) plus playoffs.


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