Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Obstacles in Our Way

My post on this blog yesterday, Testing, Testing, posed some questions that came to me after reading the initial reporting on MLB's plan to get back to playing ball while, at the same time, also trying to make the players as safe as possible. Joel Sherman came out with a very interesting piece yesterday afternoon with really smart questions that he had about the potential season.  Well worth checking out.

Sherman also posed the question that I had about testing for PEDs. He says that MLB will continue to do PED tests out of the lab that will do their COVID-19 tests, and he speculates that the same people collecting those tests can also do PED tests. Still, given the ongoing shortage of all components for testing, PED testing would seem to be a much lower priority for this year. I'm curious to see how that turns out.

I thought Sherman's question about there being any sort of trade deadline was an enormously important one, and I'm aggravated I didn't think of that. The implications are enormous - it wouldn't only affect the teams that are looking to fortify themselves for a stretch run, it will also hurt teams looking to get some value back for an impending free agent.

Speaking of free agents, those achieving that status after this season must be cursing their luck. I'm sure the top of the class such as Mookie Betts will get big paychecks, but they won't be cashing in for the type of money they would have received last winter. Going down to the mid-rangers and the bargains, I have to think cash-starved teams will be looking for the cheapest options available, causing their value to take a big plunge. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of 1-year deals like Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello signed this past offseason, not only for players looking to rebuild their value but also those hopeful things will be better next year.

Sherman has a new one out today, really going into details on MLB's return plan, that is worth your time to check out.  Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich have another very good piece up on The Athletic site, if you're a subscriber.


Today on ESPN Jeff Passan has a more detailed look at some of the health and safety protocols that MLB is proposing to implement. MLB's goal is to administer and process more than 10,000 coronavirus tests per week. This week Donald Trump announced that we were doing 300,000 tests per day in the United States. If this number is accurate, this works out to 2.1 million tests per week for a population of over 331 million.

As I wrote yesterday, I live in a state that is a COVID-19 hot spot and it's still difficult to get a test if you think you have the virus. We're told that implementing a testing regime for everyone is part of the plan, but there is no immediate plans for this to happen as there aren't enough tests. Even baseball fans could feel a pang of resentment over the disparity, imagine how non-sports fans will feel. Particularly since, as other sports resume they will likely be implementing similar plans. This will be something to watch.

Another thought I have on Passan's piece is this info on restrictions on the players:
Their activities outside the stadium would change, too, particularly on the road, where they would not be allowed to leave the hotel to eat at restaurants. Even at home, Tier 1 and 2 individuals would be discouraged from going to crowded bars....

"MLB will not formally restrict the activities of Covered Individuals when they are away from work," the document said, "but will expect the members of each team to ensure that they all act responsibly..."
As someone who was once a 20-something year old single knucklehead, I have little doubt that there will be at least some players who won't follow these stringent rules. The combination of the admittedly idiotic feeling of being invincible along with desire for contact with the opposite sex will be a formidable obstacle to implementing this part of the plan. How are you going to effectively police a whole team and taxi squad worth of players at home or on the road with the honor system? Good luck with that.

Finally, at the end of the article, Passan notes that MLB's proposal for spring training would be a three-phase plan with pitchers and catchers reporting first, then position players, then finally the would be a "limited number of exhibition games." Depending on how limited those games are, the health of pitchers early on is still a concern to me. With limited exhibition games to ramp up they seem likely to be behind their normal post-spring training conditioning, but with limited games there will be more pressure on winning games even early in the season. This will put pressure on managers to ask more of their starters out of the gate.


In the New York Times yesterday, Tyler Kepner writes about how a failure to return to play could doom baseball to a long-term decline. The key point for me was this one:
The best way to sell a product is to convince people that they need it. This concept fuels the overriding fear within Major League Baseball these days. The coronavirus pandemic shut down the league just before the regular season would have started. If baseball remains on hold until 2021, many people will learn to live without it. They will not need the product.
For all of the complaints by the owners that they will lost money if they pay the players pro-rated salaries this season, they stand to lose $4 billion dollars if no games are played. But, one would think, it would be even more important for baseball's future than just that $4 billion figure.

As I wrote here recently, the strike/lockout of 1994-1995 caused great harm to the game that it took years from which to recover. As Kepner points out, if baseball didn't come back at all this year, it will be 17 months from the end of last year's World Series and Opening Day 2021. That's a long time for people to learn how to live without it. That's decidedly not in MLB's best interest.

Kepner goes back to that 1994-1995 shutdown of the game which lasted 8 1/2 months -  half of the time it would be dark if they don't play this year - and shows how it took baseball a dozen years to recover the attendance numbers of the pre-strike league. Since owners have repeatedly made a point of how large of a percentage of their income is made off of people watching live baseball, you would think that they will be more motivated to come to a compromise to get something in front of the public this season.

While I certainly expect to see more baby steps to a return to normal by this summer, I don't think anyone foresees anything close to the activities of a normal summer. If was an owner I might consider that having live baseball on TV as essentially the only game in town might actually attract some new fans to the game that would benefit baseball beyond this season. That's why, although I understand the obstacles in the way, I can remain optimistic for some sort of 2020 season. While I'm sure the negotiations won't be easy, both sides definitely have much more to lose by not playing.


While it will be no easy task to implement health and safety protocols in a way that will make players feel safe enough to return, the most likely sticking point beyond that in the ongoing negotiations between players and owners will be, of course, the revenue sharing plan. I've talked about it a lot this week, so I'm not going to do take another deep dive into that mud puddle today. I did find this AP article from yesterday interesting, however.

According to the AP, the union's lawyers have requested what they described as "a slew of financial documents that detail the industry’s finances". The article makes some excellent points as to why the players are extremely reluctant to trust the owners' numbers.

The quotes from Trevor Bauer's Twitter video were interesting. I know Bauer has the earned reputation as somewhat of a kook, but he's also a smart guy. And he's right, there are a ton of ways for owners to hide revenue, especially as they are the ones who choose what information to disclose. Their books aren't open to review. As Bauer points out, they can hide revenue simply by moving it to entities that are not owned by the club, but rather are owned by the same people under a different name. Bauer's example of a parking garage would be one way of doing that.

My big hope in this story is that by requesting the documents the players have shown some willingness to negotiate on this issue. My fear is that the complicated nature of determining the most accurate revenue numbers would certainly drag things out in negotiations. I guess it's possible they could agree on some parameters and continue to work on those numbers while games are being played - if they actually come to terms that include revenue sharing.


I have more that I would like to talk about, but this post already seems long enough and I'm still taking 3 different meds for my sciatica eruption from earlier in the week. I'm starting to feel the wooziness again that comes upon me from the meds. This is the place where I've said in the last couple of posts that I will try to post something later on. Today is the day to admit to myself that is very unlikely to happen. When I tried to write later on both days the stuff I came out with wasn't worth your time or mine.

What's happened to me over the past 2 weeks really sucked, but it also gives me a little perspective on everything I have to deal with in this ridiculous year. Two weeks ago, I experienced some nerve pain that radiated from my back through my entire left leg. I could barely walk for over a week, but then last Monday I felt better enough to take a short, slow walk with my dogs. Still felt great that night, and even the next morning when I woke up. I honestly felt like I was a couple of days from returning to normal.

I sat on the couch that morning to drink coffee and plan what I was going to write about. When I was done, I stood up and felt a level of pain many times worse than the original injury. It was like all the muscles in my left leg and back were cramping severely at the same time, only instead of going away like a normal cramp would, the cramps cascaded into events that went on for more than an hour.

Thanks to telemedicine I finally saw a doctor and had three medications prescribed. It took a day to get past the worst of it, another day not to alternate being in pain with being uncomfortable all freaking day, and finally today where I feel okay physically as long as I'm not standing or walking. The meds have done the job, even if I hate the way they make me feel. Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to walk around the house a little without experiencing immediate pain and cramps. In any case, I know I'll be fine soon.

I have 3 personal outlets that help me feel "normal" during these trying times: writing here, taking my dogs for long walks and doing yard work. Besides the sometimes unbearable pain, what this flareup cost me over the last 2 weeks was the ability to do the latter two. So, I guess I can be grateful that I can still write. Today I'm grateful for the vastly diminished pain and discomfort. When I can do at least some limited walking around the house without a cane and eventually get back to what constitutes 100% in my 61-year-old body's reality, I'm going to be pretty damned grateful, indeed.

I'm not trying to make a corny Hallmark card moment here, but to be honest, I needed to change the mentality I was feeling before this happened. I'm not glad for the sciatica, but I'm glad to be counting my blessings more and looking at all of the obstacles less. When I am out there taking the dogs for a walk again, I am really going to feel good about just being able to do it. My hope, for those of you who chose to spend some of your time here reading these words, is that your circumstances are working out for you as well as they can for your benefit.

Please have a great day, stay well. I hope to see you back here tomorrow.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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