The world at large and the sporting world continues to understand what constitutes the new normal in the midst of a completely unknown crisis with the Coronavirus pandemic.
At this point, it seems likely that the baseball season will be severely disrupted if not altogether canceled. At the very least it could be the most games lost in MLB history as right now June is being talked about as the earliest start date. The 1994 strike remains the longest work stoppage in MLB history, with the 1994 season halting after just 113 games with no post-season and shortening the 1995 season to 144 games(Braves fans have hope; Braves won it all in 1995). Prior to that, the 1981 strike erased 38% of the season where most teams played between 106 and 109 games but came together for the playoffs after an unusual split-season playoff format(Dodgers fans have hope; Dodgers won the WS in 1981).
Of course – this is no labor stoppage – and no one can fault the league for being too careful. That, however, does not stop us from bringing up legitimate questions about how to move forward from here. I’ll take a look at some of the biggest questions being bandied about the Major League Baseball offices as well as a team that might be just as well without playing out the 2020 campaign.
One of the most concerning aspects of this current American situation is figuring out how to take care of many part-time employees or employees who work in industries not considered essential and who cannot work remotely. Servers, waitresses, janitors, and a slew of others have no recourse and this segment can also qualify for minor league baseball players.
Right now minor leaguers are guaranteed a stipend until April 9th, but beyond that things are up in the air as well when and if a minor league season happens. Obviously, right now minor league is already pitiful, and without game revenue to at least being to compensate the players as well as no union representation, a lot will be shown about teams’ character as to how they respond to the situation. Several grassroots have come up to help players, as well as a $30M fund from MLB to help stadium workers. This aspect of the game’s future must be figured out.
Another real question is how teams will manage legitimate aspects like service time. Typically, as Kris Bryant is well aware of, if a player spends 173 calendar days in the majors THAT is considered their rookie season. The quick summary and importance of that scenario?
Bryant had been breezing through life, winning the 2010 High School Baseball Player of the Award before the Golden Spikes Award for the Best College Player of the Year in 2013 at the University of San Diego. He proceeded to win the Arizona Fall League Player of the Year in the Fall of 2013 before cruising in 2014 to the Minor League Player of the Year Award. In Spring Training of 2015, he hit 9 home runs and hit .455 and you just know he was that guy who managed to never get caught even when he did do something wrong and probably never loses at Madden. But, perhaps out of spite to give him some fake adversity but more likely very aware of the financial implications, the Cubs sent him down to the minors to start the season. After 12 days he was called up, falling one day short of that season counting towards his service time as he went out and won the Rookie of the Year Award(okay, it was definitely for the money). Not done yet with being perfect, for good measure in 2016 he won the MVP Award and helped the Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908.
About that time though he got upset about the Cubs falsely holding him back from the majors, and sued the club about it so that he could hit free agency and a big payday sooner. Recently he lost his arbitration and is now being held onto by the Cubs through the 2021 season – not 2020. What about rookies that play this year – will they ALL lose service time for the entire season? Would it just be easier not to play this season?
Speaking of a lost season, what about free agents to be? JT Realmuto, Mookie Betts, Trevor Bauer, and Astros-test case George Springer are the highlights, but Francisco Lindor and the aforementioned Kris Bryant are up after the 2021 season. Would they be held to their teams automatically another year, or does the team just lose a year of their services? Marcell Ozuna signed a one year deal in free agency with the Braves after a subpar 2019 in hopes of raising his price a la Josh Donaldson last year, who rode a one year $23M deal with the Braves to a 4 year-$92M deal with the Twins. Would that deal just forward into 2021 or would the Braves just lose the money?
This gets extra tricky for one Mookie Betts – who was just traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers with a year to go until free agency. Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA put it best though as he talked about what players are really going up against: time.
Players as you know, I mean, unlike a lot of us in our positions we can just go back to what we were doing, but every player is fighting something that’s unwinnable, and that’s the aging process. So a lost year or lost portion of a season in their careers is very different from other people, so we’re gonna try by every means we can to play basketball again, but I say that the safety and health of our players is first, and our fans, which is why I don’t want to speculate more on that”
Speaking of Betts, in my mind if there is one team that would most benefit from a lost season, it would almost have to be the Boston Red Sox.
For several reasons. One might be Mookie Betts because with a season Red Sox fans everywhere would be cursing the Red Sox with every highlight Betts made during a season that the Red Sox still controlled the former MVP.
Another would be that it was just announced that Chris Sale will have Tommy John surgery, this after the team gave away David Price in the Betts deal but still will be paying him $16M. Not to mention *$14M for Rusney Castillo (that doesn’t go against their luxury tax – great story about that here) and $13M for team stalwart but no-knees-left Dustin Pedroia(blame Manny Machado?). They are also still paying $5M for Giants World Series hero, Boston bust, and current Giant again Pablo Sandoval. Last but not least Manny Ramirez will get $2M in 2020 and still be receiving checks from the Red Sox until 2026. Not just Bobby Bonilla Day anymore.
The New York Yankees look loaded and could benefit from a late start with several key spring injuries but nothing except for Luis Severino seen as season-ending. The Tampa Bay Rays are back at it and should best the Red Sox again, and the Blue Jays have so much quality young talent they just might sneak over the Red Sox as well. Does finishing above the Orioles even count as a moral victory? (Answer – no)
On top of all this, the investigation into the Red Sox’ own sign-stealing scandal in 2018 has remained open. You might recall that Alex Cora has been declared a ringleader in the scandal that has defaced the Houston Astros and was the absolute number one story of spring training. Cora, Manager of the Year just one year prior, is now out and his future as an MLB manager is decidedly up in the year. Appropriately, MLB has been silent on this investigation but any season at all would surely bring an end to the investigation and further shame on Red Sox Nation.
So while the world struggles to cope with this ever-expanding crisis, sports fans find solace in the cherry-pit spitting championship on ESPN The Ocho. This Thursday, March 26th was supposed to be Opening Day, but no ballparks will be open at all. Currently, Doubleday Double Talk has predictions articles waiting for a start date for a season that was supposed to be an exciting one, to get us past the sign stealing and back to baseball. Instead, we mourn a world that is hurting, and we mourn a potential 2020 without a baseball.
We mourn for that.
The Red Sox?
Not so much.