Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are currently in negotiations to start the season on July 4, but there are various hurdles that must be overcome and details that need to be ironed out in order for that to happen.
The good news: it looks like the main thing that could prevent baseball from returning this year is a potential MLB vs. MLBPA standoff, as even the stingiest states look like they’ll begin to slowly reopen in June.
“Pro sports, in that first week or so of June, without spectators, and (with) modifications and very prescriptive conditions, also can begin to move forward,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “and a number of other sectors of our economy will open up, if we hold these trend lines the next number of weeks.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently echoed those sentiments.
When will MLB return?
The bad news: the negotiations appear to be off to a rocky start, as MLB owners are shooting for a 50-50 revenue split with the players in addition to prorating players’ salaries for the shortened 82-game season. The latter has been agreed upon, but the former remains a contentious issue, with players such as Blake Snell and Bryce Harper speaking out against it.
But there is incentive for both sides to come to an agreement and ample time to strike one. MLB is losing roughly $75 million a day with no product, according to estimates by Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis. Not only that, but if baseball is the first sport back it’s reasonable to assume popularity would be greater, TV ratings would be higher and betting handle would be increased due to sports fans’ hunger for live events in the midst of the pandemic. While it’s been a disastrous couple of months for baseball, it seems like there is an opportunity for the league to regain popularity if it returns and reach an audience it doesn’t usually reach.
With that said there are also numerous health and logistical details to hash out, the financial aspect notwithstanding. ESPN reports that the plan to return would require 200,000 reliable COVID-19 tests and “a promise not to interfere with the nationwide fight to contain the pandemic.” Only four of the 17 states with MLB teams meet The Harvard Global Health Institute’s testing recommendations, which say states should conduct at least 152 tests per 100,000 people. So that challenge remains.
Alterations to season
Should MLB figure everything out, though, changes to a typical season are as follows:
-Games will be played in teams’ home stadiums with no fans
-The season would be 82 games long
-The playoffs would be expanded to seven teams in each league
-There would be 30-man active rosters with a 20-man taxi squad
-There would be a universal DH
Playoff baseball in Chicago?
So if baseball returns, how would the above changes affect Chicago’s teams?
The expanded playoff field is ideal for the Cubs and White Sox, as PointsBet listed the Cubs’ over/under at 88.5 wins and the White Sox total at 80.5 as of January. Of course, the shortened schedule will affect those totals, but both teams may have found themselves on the fringe of a playoff berth in a typical year. So perhaps the expanded field will make a difference for one or both.
The Cubs, meanwhile, would be able to use a DH for every game, meaning more at-bats for a guy like Ian Happ – and perhaps less time in the outfield for someone like Kyle Schwarber.
That said, it’s hard to dive too deep into the implications of the adjusted rules as the primary focus remains on baseball returning in some capacity. We’ll be keeping a close eye on negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA this week.