We all want baseball to return, but we also all know the world is dealing with an unprecedented situation, and while it’s silly to brush off any personal effects of not having sports it also needs to be emphasized that baseball cannot return until it is safe to do so. That being said, I think it’s also clear that most everyone involved is, at the very least, going to toe that line as finely as possible and do everything in their power to get at least some games in for the 2020 season.
To that end, while there have been a lot of rumored proposals being bandied about by MLB like playing in a biodome of sorts in Arizona or splitting the league by spring training facility or having three sets of teams in Arizona, Florida and Texas, these have all essentially been brainstorming ideas that have made their way into the public consciousness. They weren’t made up, but they also weren’t official proposals by the league. We may be getting one of those soon, though. Jeff Passan reported on Wednesday that the league is expected to extend a return-to-play proposal to the Players Union within the next week.
There’s a lot in this report you’ll want to check out, but the broad takeaway seems to be that this is the most concrete “rumor” we’ve gotten this entire time, and it seems like the brainstorming sessions have moved into more substantial talks, at least among ownership groups. At the same time, it also should be mentioned that this does not mean anything is close to done. There are still details to be worked out among owners, never mind getting the approval of players.
That latter part will involve a couple of leaps to be made, including on the financial side of things. Back in late March players agreed to a deal that included them receiving their pro-rated salaries over however long a season lasts. The league may want further cuts to come given the lack of revenue they’ll get from gates as the assumption remains that there will be no fans at least to start and possibly for the entirety of any season. I would not expect the players to push back on that, and likely will point to the league’s diversifying of their revenue streams in recent years to become less and less reliant on gate revenue for their profit margins.
If any agreement is to be struck, there are a few basic frameworks of which we have a pretty good idea at this point. For one, as former player Trevor Plouffe reported earlier in the week, the hope (I think expectation might be a bit strong, at least in terms of any sort of consensus) is that a second spring training would take place in June with the season potentially starting up in early July. Again, these dates are not firm and according to Passan some feel this is a little optimistic, but the report does indicate that teams are nudging players to start getting back into game shape.
Additionally, all of these games would, at least according to current plans, be played in teams’ home parks. This is seen as the easiest way to get players on board, as many of them are not as likely to agree to a plan that keeps them away from their families during a pandemic in some makeshift biodome, for obvious reasons.
There is also an interesting note in Passan’s report about the fear of a possible second-wave in the fall and what this would do for a plan that would potentially have 80-100 games starting in July and likely extending a bit beyond a normal baseball season. Some are suggesting to just play a shortened season to avoid that ruining any momentum later in this potential season. From vantage point, if that is a legitimate fear and it is somehow safe enough to play for a couple months but not after that, I would just embrace the weirdness and have some sort of massive tournament.
Ultimately, though, there are still too many questions for me to get really excited about anything, and really I am more concerned than anything. I want baseball back as much as anyone, but there are real safety concerns at play here that need to be taken extremely seriously. It’s not just the players who would be put at risk here — and some of them may not even agree to putting themselves in that position — but also coaches and umpires and clubhouse staff and bus drivers and a whole host of people in the background who make all of this possible, who themselves may be in an at-risk population or may interact with those in an at-risk population on a regular basis.
This is why it’s long been said that massive testing would be needed, and that in itself is an issue because MLB can’t in good conscious — which doesn’t mean they won’t do it if the option is presented to them, of course — ramp up their own testing to such a degree if communities around the country are struggling to get what they need. And, of course, there is the overarching question here that has yet to be answered, at least publicly: What happens if/when a player tests positive?
So at the end of the day, I’m skeptical of this and will continue to be skeptical of this — both the feasibility of getting it in place and whether or not it’s even a good idea — until baseball comes back. I want the game to come back and for it to happen in a safe way. The league, for its part, thinks it can find a way for that to happen relatively soon.