Friday, June 19, 2020

The Little Engine That Just Couldn't

Ten games apart. After these weeks of annoyingly fruitless negotiations, MLB and the union are a mere ten games away from getting a season underway. You would think that a compromise would be inevitable at this point, as just about every other detail has been worked out. And sadly, you would be wrong, as these negotiations are clearly being powered by the Little Engine That Just Couldn't. Those of us who allowed our hopes to be raised one last time are left shaking our heads and wondering if this is all some sort of sick joke.

At Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra thinks this is just a delaying tactic on the part of MLB, and they're looking to run out the clock until there is only enough time left to play the lower number of games that some of the owners are insisting on. He also thinks that Manfred is posturing somewhat to appease the hardline group of owners that would really prefer not to play at all in 2020.

The tough part of all of this is that Tony Clark is going to have to keep on trying to push Manfred and MLB beyond 60 games. Essentially, if he doesn't and the MLBPA eventually agree on 80 games, it's going to look like Clark caved. This is a negotiation where both Manfred and Clark are both trying to reach an agreement with each other while simultaneously trying to appease the most militant parts of their constituencies. If I have to read one more strongly-worded complaint accusing the other side of bad-faith negotiating, I'm going to have to drown it all out with a loud, prolonged primal scream. It's always tricky to explain those to the neighbors.

And to put a cherry on top of this sundae, reports have come out today that both the Phillies and Blue Jays have both shut down their spring training facilities after COVID-19 showed up as an uninvited guest in both places. The Phillies got hit the hardest, with 5 players and 3 staff members testing positive while awaiting test results on 20 other players and 12 more staff members. Early word on the Blue Jays was one player testing positive so far.

The ridiculously contentious talks between Manfred and Clark have sucked up all of the oxygen in the room. Worries about COVID-19 have been overshadowed by the question of whether there will even be an attempt at having a season. Joel Sherman suggests that this should serve as a reality check for both parties. My question would be, if you can't even find a way to reach an agreement with only a 10 game difference, how are you going to be able to work together to keep the virus from shutting it all down?

With Florida, Arizona and Texas, among other places, already seeing a large spike in COVID-19 infections, the idea that you can keep the virus out of the game without enforcing strict quarantines seems almost ludicrous. And indeed, Jared Diamond and Ben Cohen are reporting in the Wall Street Journal that the increase in infection rates in places is causing baseball to  reconsider the idea of playing ball in a "bubble" scenario like the NBA is planning to doin Orlando.

That seems unlikely at this point. The amount of planning required and MLB's fervent desire to get a season and Playoffs completed by the end of October would seem to preclude that, especially since baseball rosters are so much larger than basketball rosters. They would have needed to have been planning something that large since March. I couldn't imagine them pulling it off now.

Honestly, unless they don't play at all, I think baseball is most likely committed to playing in the various home ball parks around the country and trying to impress on the players a need to use caution in their interactions with others. Whether that will be enough is anyone's guess, and probably depends on how large these mini outbreaks around the country wind up being.

I've said from the beginning here that I think there will at least be an attempt to play ball because both sides have a lot to lose if it doesn't happen. I've been humbled by the sheer amount of obstinance and intransigence on both sides, especially some of the owners. I still think they have to make a deal, even if this doesn't seem quite as inevitable as it did a few weeks ago. MLB needs the concessions from the players, particularly extended playoffs and an agreement not to file a grievance, which would seem to preclude the scenario where the Commissioner unilaterally declares a 40-something game season. At this point, however, a magic eight ball has as much or more of a chance to predict the outcome than my best guess.

So here we are, sitting at the end of another week, no deal in place and COVID-19 insinuating itself into the game of baseball before training camps have technically even started. Good times...

That's it for me today. I'm going to find something fun to write about this weekend. In the meantime, thanks so much for spending some of your time here with us today. Please stay safe, stay well, and take care. Hope to see you back here soon.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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