Though none of the potential wrinkles in MLB’s proposal to restart the 2020 season will matter if the league and players can’t iron out their differences when it comes to pay, the game could proceed with some interesting twists. More than just a way to facilitate a smooth transition into and through an abbreviated season, some of these changes could even serve as litmus tests for the league’s future framework.
Just as the truncated draft saves owners money while furthering the plan to trim a quarter of minor league affiliates, the league could be trying to plant a few seeds in the form of revised or relaxed rules this season. Again, that’s if owners are smart enough to figure out that asking players to make additional financial concessions is a road to Nowheresville. Or [dons tinfoil hat] if the owners don’t actually want to play this season.
A third possibility, one that is far more likely than the conspiracy above, is that the MLB Players Association will again be steamrolled at the bargaining table. Its members don’t have the same wherewithal as the owners and are generally less able to weather a protracted paycheck drought, which could mean acquiescing in the name of getting paid again.
Assuming the two sides do find a way to work through their differences, Joel Sherman presented a number of possibilities for the framework of the unique season that would ensue. The most obvious among those, and the one most likely to remain or return in the future is the use of the universal DH. This is a given should MLB opt for the plan to play with three 10-team divisions — just don’t ask Braves chairman Terry McGuirk about his team being forced to play in the *gasp* Central — since the intermingling of the two leagues means using more uniform rules.
Universal DH is expected to be discussed of one of many wrinkles. NL owners have been against it, but it could be a way to cut down on injuries in a worrisome time. @JimBowdenGM mentioned the possibility
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 10, 2020
Even in the event that league and divisional structures remain intact, something Sherman suggests may be the case (with intra- and cross-division play only), the DH would provide an extra measure of protection for pitchers who won’t have as much time to ramp up. Hitting and running the bases shouldn’t put them at significantly greater risk, but Pedro Strop and Jimmy Nelson can tell you the possibility does exist. As another means by which to mitigate the trouble with a shortened redo of spring training, rosters would expand to 30 with a 20-man taxi squad at the ready.
Though Sherman didn’t say it explicitly, that latter concept would likely come at the expense of the minor league season. Not that MiLB would be decimated by having the 40-man roster effectively inflated by 10 spots, but the minors are already in peril as is and it seems as though there will be some sort of facility-based developmental “league” in place should the big leagues resume play.
Keeping with the theme of expansion, it’s believed the playoffs will grow to include at least 14 teams. Such a move accomplishes the dual goals of accounting for the chaos of the short season and generating as much TV revenue as possible. That could mean more money for players if a revenue-sharing agreement ($) is in place for the coming season, though it doesn’t seem at this point like the union is too keen on backing away from its stance that the existing agreement is set in stone.
So let’s run this back in a nutshell to see what we’re looking at: universal DH; potential divisional realignment and/or a revamping of interleague play; expanded rosters; decrease in MiLB affiliates; expanded playoff format; revenue sharing between league and union. These all seem like points of negotiation for the new CBA, particularly as the gap between league revenue and average player salaries has grown over the years, with both sides claiming at least two points as wins and finding common ground on one or two.
The formal proposal should be submitted by Tuesday, at which point we should start to get a better idea for what the league is really thinking with all of this. If a June 10 start date is truly a possibility they’re considering, there’s a little less than a month over which to reach an agreement for how the season should proceed. If, that is, all the proper precautionary measures are in place. This is going to be one helluva needle to thread so we’ll just have to see how steady the respective parties’ hands are over the coming weeks.