Thursday, December 17, 2020

When Will the 2021 Season Begin?

On Tuesday, USA Today's Bob Nightengale published a piece stating that MLB wants to delay the start of the season for about a month, with the likelihood that the result would be a season of less than 162 games. The thinking, apparently, would be that they would want all of the players and support personnel vaccinated to avoid the need to reimplement the strict health and safety protocols from this past season. Of course, the league also wanted the players to make salary concessions for a second straight year, with fairly predictable results. The article included a quote from an NL team owner, bravely hiding behind anonymity:

"I don’t see a snowball's chance in hell that spring training can start with protocols in place. I think there will be significant pressure for players to get the vaccine first before they go to spring training, and if that has to be moved back to April and play 130 games, so be it."

Bruce Meyer, the Players Association's chief negotiator, quickly put out a statement in response, as quoted from a piece in The Athletic by Evan Drellich:

"We’ve seen anonymous quotes attributed to club sources casting doubt on the start date and length of the season. To be clear, and as we've made clear to the league, players are planning on showing up for spring training on time for a full 162-game season as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement and the league's previously issued schedule."

The owners can't unilaterally impose a shorter schedule and pro-rated pay. This would have to be negotiated with the union. Frankly, I don't see how MLB couldn't get all of the players, coaches and support personnel vaccinated before the usual start of spring training in February with the resources they possess. There should be enough vaccine around by then for them to get some sort of priority allocation, I suspect that MLB's real reason for pushing back the start of the season is the desire to play fewer games in empty or near-empty ballparks. From what I read, it's likely to be midsummer or even a bit later before everyone that wants the vaccine can get it. If the schedule gets pared down to around the 130 games the anonymous owner suggested, the 30-odd games lost would be ones that bean counting team owners would not miss at all.

I think for the fans it would be pretty disappointing to lose a chunk of the 2021 season after the farcical 60-game slate masquerading as a baseball season this past summer. You could sell it to us, though, if you had some real, concrete reasons for the delay. It's hard to justify, however, when the NBA is starting their season on December 22 without a vaccine available. They're planning to play a 72-game schedule, which is a slight reduction from the normal 82, but again, they're starting next week. MLB owners don't think they can get their season underway in April?

I'll be honest. As a Mets fan, I'm excited for the new era of Mets baseball to begin, and I don't want to wait an extra month for it. But even as a baseball fan, I would hate to see a season of less than 162 games follow on the heels of last year's two month sprint to the playoff dollars. Again, if you could convince me that it was absolutely necessary, I would live with it. But even if a vaccine isn't available right at the start of spring training, why couldn't they implement the protocols that worked pretty well in 2020 to bridge that gap? Instead, MLB is willing to start another fight with the union demanding salary concessions when there are important details to negotiate for the 2021 season and a new basic agreement to work out before 2022.

As my lifetime has progressed I've watched the people who own MLB clubs become increasingly poor stewards of the game. Maybe Florida and Arizona will bail them out by not allowing spring training to start on a normal schedule, and they can work something out with the players where it doesn't all become the ugly pissing contest that we witnessed this past spring. I don't think the game can afford that to happen again so soon. My hope, honestly, is they put the best interests of the game in the forefront and do what they have to do to have a 2021 season that is as close to normal as it can possibly be.

An AP story came out yesterday stating that MLB managers were told to expect an on-time start to spring training. I'm not sure if that's a PR move on the part of baseball, but I'm hoping it's real. 2020 was such as crappy year in so many ways, I'm rooting for as much normal as I can get after the new year. I hope that MLB and the union can find common ground and a way to work together in the best interest of the game that they so miserably failed at doing this spring. I want to write geeky, optimistic posts like yesterday's rather than endless depressing ones on labor negotiations going nowhere. Here's hoping that stuff is part of what's left behind in 2020.

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As I sit here writing this, I've skipped out on watching James McCann's introductory press conference. I probably will check it out at some point, or at least read a bit about it. What I'm most interested in doing, of course, is seeing the guy play — whenever that does happen.

There's no secret that McCann represents some risk and a real test of the Mets ability to use analysis to make smart decisions. In The Athletic, Keith Law killed the Mets for this signing, basically saying the Mets are paying starting catcher money to a guy who's essentially a backup.

Other things I have read have been more complimentary of the deal. I'm willing to see how it goes. I want to feel that better decisions are going to be made than in Alderson's first time around with the team. Sure, he didn't have much money to spend, but my mind is haunted by visions of Frank Francisco, D.J. Carrasco, Andres Torres, et al. I hope Alderson has better people helping him make decisions now, and McCann represents the first fruits of that. To that end, I wonder if Jared Porter had real input on this one, given the timing.

Please stay safe, be well and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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