Sunday, May 17, 2020

It Ain't Going to Be Easy

The Post's Joel Sherman, who has been doing an excellent job all week breaking down all of the ongoing negotiations to restart the season, had another nice piece that came out yesterday evening. In summarizing the Operations Manual that MLB put forth to keep the game safe, Sherman noted how difficult it would be to keep everything as safe as possible and running through the playoffs.

As I read through some of the proposals myself, I was a little surprised at the lack of outright restrictions on the players or support personnel both at home and on the road. I share with Sherman sincere doubts that a system based on the voluntary compliance of young men to not do what comes naturally to them can ultimately succeed. Even if I was a player who followed the guidelines and kept myself safe, I would have concerns that not all of my teammates were falling into line.

If both parties can tiptoe through the minefield of issues that separate them and come to an agreement, any player who makes the decision to play is taking on an undisputed risk. I'm not sure there are any protocols that would be reasonable to follow that would infallibly stop the virus from insinuating itself into baseball.

With this pandemic becoming more and more politicized, there is little doubt that the return of sports is going to become a political touchstone. If you read the comments on this subject at sites like ESPN and The Athletic, you can see that happening already. What gets me are the folks who write as if they possess expert knowledge of the virus - without presenting any credentials - and proclaim confidently on the consequences of the virus and the disease it causes. We are all commanded to stop being cowards and listen to them. That type of thinking is becoming very much a factor in further complicating issues that are already complicated enough.

For me, the bottom line is that if baseball comes back, some players and other baseball people will be infected. We should expect that MLB will do what it can to mitigate the risk, but we can't blithely assume that there is none. All of us, including ball players, have tough decisions ahead. It is important, however, that everyone can believe that everything possible is being done to prevent exposure and infection.

Jeff Passan has a piece just up on ESPN taking a "day in the life" look at what it likely will be like to play baseball under the restrictions put forth in the Operations Manual. Reading it really drove home just how starkly different these games will look. If the season happens it will be weird for the players and the fans. I'm sure that I will watch games if they have them, but I'm also of a mind that people who find baseball a little boring already aren't going to revise their opinion of the game upward based on watching the 2020 product.

If things work out and they're actually playing ball, I've come to the stark realization that the product available will not look, sound or feel anything like what we as fans are used to. I can't help but feel a pang of regret for what won't be, even as I hope for whatever I can get. I accept that's just the reality of much of life these days.

Passan cited a player who looked at the Operations Manual and all that would be required to implement it asking. "Are we really going to be in spring training June 10?" That does feel like an unreachable goal right now. If the thorny issues of pay and safety don't get tackled pretty quickly, the only way that timetable works probably requires teams to start working on implementing these protocols in anticipation of a deal being done. Are all 30 teams willing to take that leap? I would tend to doubt it. Fingers crossed.

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I found this AP story from yesterday quite fascinating. It featured a very deep dive into the MLB's finances. The teams claim that paying the players a prorated percentage of their regular pay would cost them each about $640,000 per game. Even if you're not a big numbers person you might want to take a look at how complicated the financial questions truly are, and why there would be distrust in these numbers given that the finances of these clubs are not transparent to outsiders.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is on the record saying that clubs are projected to lose $4 billion without any season at all. Interestingly enough, in this AP article teams are claiming there will be a $4 billion loss if games are played using their own revenue sharing proposal. It makes me wish I had a better understanding of these numbers. Sadly, my nerdiness centers more on writing than accounting.

I won't claim false expertise in understanding these numbers. Clearly baseball will take a huge hit in 2020, along with almost every other legitimate business in this country. I sincerely doubt that the players will find themselves playing this season for strictly prorated money. Something has to give on both sides. If not, they will both endure consequences. The vast majority of the players can't afford not to be paid, and MLB cannot endure going dark for more than a year, as we discussed here yesterday.

I still believe, if possible, the best way for MLB to show that they're not trying to back-door an eventual permanent salary cap into baseball is to offer assurance they won't ask for one in next year's Agreement. I understand that no one wants to give up a bargaining point before heading into a negotiation, but these are extraordinary times. To make things work we're all going to have to do some things that are less than what we would normally consider optimal.

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Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich had an article up on The Athletic site about how the consequences of the epidemic will likely impact revenue sharing in baseball this season. For almost two decades, the money that flows from big-market teams to those in smaller markets has helped teams in smaller cities to achieve some leveling of the playing field. Small clubs are able to makes choices that include holding onto their stars long-term.

I have some qualms about revenue sharing that I have expressed in the old days on my blog. It consistently bugs me that a team like the Marlins, playing in the seventh-largest metro area in the country, always is dipping into those revenue sharing dollars. Still, I believe that sharing has a net positive effect on baseball.

Rosenthal and Drellich go on to demonstrate how the finances of different clubs are affected by the pandemic. It's interesting that a low-expense club like the Rays will take a much lower hit than some big-market clubs, but losing out on those revenue sharing dollars isn't going to help them going forward.

Until I read this article I hadn't even considered revenue sharing as collateral damage from the COVID-19 shutdown. If we continue into at least the start of next season without fans this is likely to be an ongoing issue.

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Germany's Bundesliga soccer league has returned to action, two months after their season came to a halt thanks to our favorite virus' unwelcome arrival. As this article on ESPN points out, one of the biggest concerns over a return are injuries caused by a lack of full conditioning.

The players only returned to full-team practices about 10 days before the restart, and there were no exhibition games at all. Should all of the details get worked out and baseball resumes I fear we're going to see a similar spike in injuries in our game.

I understand the pressure on everyone involved to play as many real games as possible with the season starting so late. Still, we're looking at over two months since spring training stopped. While I'm sure many players are doing their best to stay in shape, there's no substitute for easing into action, particularly for pitchers.

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I wanted to take a moment to apologize to anyone who encountered the problem with the jumbled up first paragraph from yesterday's post. When I inserted the picture into that paragraph a section from the middle of it moved to the end. This is normally something I would have caught right away, but I'm taking lots of meds for a sciatica flareup. I should have caught it easily, but I missed it until a couple of hours later when I looked at it again.

If you read the piece shortly after it went live, or used an RSS news aggregator to read the post, then you were served up with the messed up first paragraph. Sorry about that. It's really hard to serve as your own editor at any time, but I do make a real effort to catch glitches, punctuation mistakes (my personal nemesis), typos and awkward wording as much as possible. I understand that failing to do so detracts from a reader's experience here, and I do appreciate your visits.

That's it for today. Thanks for stopping by. Please stay well, and please come back tomorrow for a new post.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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