MLB takes a step toward a 2020 season

Will we hear the cry to “Play ball!” in July? One day after I wrote in this space about how bad it looked and how we had a right to be disappointed in both the players and owners, it seems an actual deal may be getting closer.

The players held firm to get 100 percent of prorated salaries and they will reportedly get that. But just for 60, 65, or 66 games, something in that neighborhood, although they could negotiate for more. The owners didn’t want to pay full prorated salaries for much more than 50 or 60 games and they won’t have to, it seems. An earlier agreement could have given us a longer season, but the sides botched that one. No one wanted to take a step back. No one wanted to compromise.

It was bad for the sport. Today, tomorrow and in the future.

Bats-Lined-Up-Sidebar.jpgBut if the progress that emerged in numerous reports yesterday does result in an agreement, spring training 2.0 (expected to be held in home parks) would start June 29 and run for three weeks, according to USA Today. That would lead into a regular season that could begin on July 19 and end Sept. 27.

For a moment, let’s at least celebrate the hopeful return of the sport that we love. I can’t wait for a day coming soon when we can talk about hitting streaks, wins and losses, great plays and big hits and spend time diverted from the real world by a three-hour ballgame. At least at the start, there will not be fans in the stands, and that will be strange. We’ll learn to deal with it for, I hope, one season at the most.

The hope is that the progress that emerged Wednesday afternoon is real. If progress was indeed made and the sides have advanced the ball inside the five-yard line, a turnover right now would be beyond disastrous. Baseball owners and players, please don’t do that to us.

At about 3:40 yesterday afternoon, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred issued this statement:

“At my request, Tony Clark and I met for several hours yesterday in Phoenix. We left that meeting with a jointly developed framework that we agreed could form the basis of an agreement and subject to conversations with our respective constituents. I summarized that framework numerous times in the meeting and sent Tony a written summary today. Consistent with our conversations yesterday, I am encouraging the Clubs to move forward and I trust Tony is doing the same.”

By last night, the players’ side insisted there was no agreement, as they seem to want a longer season. Makes you really wonder if they were truly sincere about their “tell us where and when” proclamation.

It will be interesting to see if the owners withdraw something they offered in the 72-game plan: the elimination of the requirement that a team that signs a big-dollar free agent loses a draft pick. We know the players have felt free agency in recent years has been anything but robust. The owners presented something that may have led them to get more dollars. If that is gone now, it doesn’t seem to me that 10 extra games of full salary was worth that. Maybe by last night the players had finally figured this out.

But I guess the players “won.” They didn’t have to take any less money. The owners are taking on even more of a loss, it would appear, with no fan revenue coming in. I’m sure they will overcome it. They could have shared the loss more, but in the end that is not happening. The March 26 agreement still angers me. It had no teeth whatsoever. Not only could they not even agree on the language they agreed to, it did not account for the economics if there would be no fans. That agreement wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Now will the progress that surfaced yesterday overcome the caution that emerged over this from last night? Who can tell with these two groups?

Beyond that, we all need to cross our fingers that the virus doesn’t have other plans and derail a season if it does start. That would be depressing on so many fronts.

Expanded playoffs: We seem headed for a season where 16 teams make the playoffs both during a shortened 2020 season and also during a, hopefully, much more normal 2021 season. The current system produced just five playoff teams in each league and 10 total.

Could the Orioles become a contender in a season shortened to, say, 60 games? Strange things can happen in shorter samples. Could they play over their head for two months and make it? Yes, it’s possible, but after 60 games last year they were not close. On June 4, 2019, the Orioles were 19-41 and tied for the worst record in the American League. Houston had the best record to that point at 42-20 and Cleveland was eighth-best at 30-30.

In the National League, the Washington Nationals, the 2019 World Series champion, would not have qualified for the playoffs with a record of 27-33 after 60 games. That far into the 2019 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers had the best mark in the NL at 43-19 and St. Louis was eighth at 30-29.

If eight teams had qualified for the playoffs in recent years, an AL team with a losing record would have held the eighth and final seed for the past three years. That would have been Texas (78-84) in 2019, the Los Angeles Angels (80-82) in 2018 and either Tampa Bay or Kansas City (80-82) in 2017.

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