We have crossed the threshold from 2020 into 2021. Can I get a “Thank Aceves” from the chat, please? Hopefully this year is a lot better on a number of fronts, including baseball. The baseball piece is certainly not as important as the others, but we can still hope that we have as close to a normal season as possible coming up and that for the Red Sox specifically the play on the field is much more palatable than it was last summer. For today, I’m less focused on the team than I am the league, however. Typically at this point on the calendar I would be focusing on some sort of resolutions for the new year. This year, though, I have just one. I would very much like it if MLB could figure it the hell out.
It feels a little crazy to even say it at this point, but as things stand now pitchers and catchers are expected to start reporting to camps roughly six weeks from now. It sort of sneaks up on you in this way. And it’s all despite the fact that most of the major free agents remain on the board waiting to be signed. The fact is camp is relatively close, unless it is not, because we have no idea what is going on in 2021 despite the season being so close. It is, frankly, an embarrassment how much still needs to be figured out.
The schedule is only one of those things, though it is certainly the biggest. At some point soon the league and the players are going to have to figure out if they can play part of the season without fans again and what that will look like for either answer. Do they push back a month or two and just eliminate those games? Do they push back a month or two but then get in as many games as possible in a condensed schedule? Do they just go as is? No one is pretending like it is an easy question with no-brainer answers. It’s complicated! But it still needs to be figured out yesterday.
And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. We also, for example, have no idea whether or not the National League will be using the designated hitter. We don’t know if teams are going to be limited to their regions for their schedule again like they were in 2020. We have no idea how many players will be carried on the roster to start the season. And piggybacking off that, in 2020 we were supposed to see a cap on the number of pitchers a team could carry. Will that be implemented this year? We don’t know!
Now, we can be fair about some things. Like I said, this is obviously a complicated issue. And you can make as many plans as you want, but things could change, and maybe they likely will at this point. The vaccination rollout in this country, for example, remains a bit of a mystery (to put it in the nicest possible terms) and that’s a major factor in all of this. All that said, you can still come up with a framework that can be altered if need be, hopefully with some sort of tangible markers that would trigger those alterations that were previously agreed upon by the two sides. In a world with a functioning relationship between the two powers at be this would be in place as we sit here today. Unfortunately that is not the world we occupy.
It is true that I’ve said in the past my biggest hope for all of these negotiations is that they stay private, so I recognize a little bit of hypocrisy here on my part complaining that we don’t know what’s going on. And if they are indeed hard at work behind closed doors making progress in these regards, then good on them. But there are two things I would say to that point. The first is that nothing about the recent history between these two sides of league and players suggests that’s what is happening. For too long we’ve heard about every little conversation they’ve had — and even some they haven’t actually had with each other — and I’m not just going to close my eyes and bank on them being adults now with no evidence.
Secondly, let’s just say I’m wrong and they are indeed having some substantial behind-closed-doors meetings about this stuff and working diligently towards a deal. Even in that case, they don’t get gold stars for doing something that should have been done months ago, and again would have been done with functional leadership in place. When I was in high school and neglected to do my homework, I didn’t expect a pat on the back when I turned it in a week later. The best-case scenario we’re dealing with here is that they are way late to the party on something quite important.
And, to be clear, this is not just something that is annoying to me as a writer. That’s certainly part of it, but it also has tangible effects on what we’re seeing in free agency. Teams are going to be less likely to invest big money in free agency without knowing what the landscape of the year ahead will look like in terms of games played and fans and all of that. Guys who best fit as a DH like Nelson Cruz, among others, are hung out to dry as well without knowing whether or not they have a market of 15 teams or 30. Some fringe players would have a much better chance at landing a major-league deal if we knew now that the roster would be 30 on Opening Day rather than 26. The cynics among us would point to that being a very good reason for MLB to drag its feet on this. There’s no proof that’s what’s happening here, but they haven’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt with this stuff.
Whether this is nefarious inaction by MLB or sheer incompetence is besides the point either way. The important part of all this is simply that we are witnessing yet another example of MLB shooting themselves in the foot and being just about as bad as possible at what is effectively their entire job. The point of the league, and to an extent the players association as well, is to make things run smoothly, to set rules and make a schedule. They have done none of those things. We’re in 2021 now. Players are going to start making plans to get to camp very soon without any real idea if camp will actually start on time. It’s having an effect on free agency right now and when negotiations inevitably get ugly in a very public fashion it will have an effect on fan interest. I think I speak for everyone when I say: Get your goddamn shit together, everyone involved.