What will the playoffs look like?
Since the playoffs are one of the most prominent question marks in MLB’s attempt to play out the 2020 season as if it was any other regular one, there has been little resolution on this front. Yet, some rumors are swirling around. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, as part of his goal to revitalize the sport, wants to expand the playoff format to 14 teams. The most likely way this happens is for each division winner to claim a playoff spot and for four wild clubs to advance to the postseason as well. Or, although improbable, a different format may be worked out, possibly one where the top two teams of each division and one wild card winner compete in the playoffs. This latter setup is highly unlikely to occur, though.
Either way, if you are a San Diego Padres fan, as I am, then you will benefit because the team from America’s Finest City appears to have the talent and depth to be one of the seven top teams in the National League. Another question about the playoffs that needs to be determined is when it will take place. Since this season will be unlike any in history, the postseason will not happen in October as usual. However, the exact date in which the playoffs do happen is highly variable as no one, not even the most trained doctors can predict what kind, of course, the coronavirus will take and therefore affect baseball. The current proposal though, is to have the playoffs in November. The month makes sense based on how many games Rob Manfred wants each team to play.
How will the virus affect players’ salaries and service time?
There is no definitive answer to this question as of right now. The only information known right pertains to minor league players. Minor leaguers will continue to be paid the same amount of money they usually earn through May 31. There is an exception to this rule, as players who are already receiving housing and food are exempt. Also, MLB has agreed to dole out a $170 million lump sum to athletes on 40-man rosters. Finally, each team holds the right to deal with their Dominican Summer League players however they deem fit in terms of pay.
As for major leaguers, the MLB Constitution has something to say about the issue. The Constitution has provided a clause in every player’s contract stating that in times of national emergency, when baseball is not played, the standing MLB Commissioner has the legal right to suspend contracts. What this means is that, if Rob Manfred elects to suspend contracts, pay and service time will be stuck in hiatus. Simply, players will not be paid, and they will not accrue service time. This creates many other problems in the meantime.
How will the draft be affected?
Fans of major league baseball must be aware of the fact that the virus does not merely affect the sport at the professional ranks; instead, the pandemic stops high school and college baseball from continuing. This has an immediate effect on how players at these levels are scouted and how much money teams will have to offer top picks in the 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft. College athletes, although they can not improve or hurt their chances of being drafted higher due to no more competitions, will not be affected as much as high school athletes. Collegiate stars have had numerous years to showcase their talents to scouts. As a result, scouts’ opinions on college players do not change much, barring an unexpected rise or precipitous fall in skill. Thus, there is less risk in drafting them. As such, they may be taken more often and earlier in the draft. The biggest question is how to deal with college seniors considering how they are more often than not made in the later rounds as depth.
An article, written by Fangraphs.com, detailed that more college players could be tempted to pull a Carter Stewart, electing to play in foreign markets as a means of establishing value for a transition to MLB. This seems like a viable option worth considering for seniors who would be drafted in any other year. Whether they will be signed by teams outside the U.S. or by independent leagues within the country is unknown, but there should be a rise in how many students choose this option.
For high schoolers, this year will be a lot tougher on them than previous years have been. High school scouting is riskier. Due to this, scouts will have to rely more on player videos than ever before. However, even this method is tenuous and might persuade more teams to not utilize their top picks on high school players outside the top 10 or so known stars who have a long track record. For example, plenty of teams still figure into signing established high school arms such as Mick Abel and Jered Kelly or high school outfielders Zac Veen and Pete-Crow Armstrong at the top of the draft. Others, such as high school shortstop Ed Howard, could be included in this group. One of the best bets to make on this draft is the idea that signing bonuses should be smaller or include deferred payments so that MLB teams can recuperate from the sizable financial losses they will see with a shortened season.
Major League Baseball has let us into some of the decisions made on the upcoming draft. According to recent reputable sources like ESPN have announced that the draft, instead of taking place in June as usual, will occur in July and be shortened to 5-10 rounds. An adverse effect of this will be a test on the legitimacy of MLB’s proposal to reduce the minor leagues. Whether the draft is successful this year will go along way in determining whether MLB’s plan to terminate clubs at the single-A, short-season single-A, and rookie-level leagues is feasible.
Will teams play in front of no fans?
MLB, in the last few days, has consistently discussed how the season could start with teams playing in front of a crowd of zero. Yet, there are several problems with this plan. Although feasible for spring training, the idea that clubs will play regular-season games in front of no live audience is hard to believe. The financial ramifications of such a decision will be huge, and the cost-benefit analysis will be depressing. Baseball, unlike the NBA or NFL, which has huge megadeals with TV networks, depends on revenue from ballpark visitors a lot more than any other sport.
The pacts made by each team and local media are not as enriching as the ones made in other sports. As such, there will be a substantial financial albatross if MLB continues with its plan to play in front of no live audience. Thus, there is a strong likelihood where MLB will wait to play until it is safe for the public to attend games. Conversely, there is a compromise. Although playing several months of games is improbable, the MLB season could be started earlier if the industry decides to play only a few weeks of contests with empty seats.
The more effective decision that should and most likely will be made is to have spring training games played in empty stadiums. With a much small seating capacity, spring training is more beneficial to the local economies in Arizona and Florida than it is to team owners. Owners will lose some money from the affair but not nearly as much as they would if they let no fans in on Opening Day. In other words, the owners can bounce back from not having fans attend spring training easily, especially since two weeks’ worth of revenue already came in, but are a lot less so if regular-season games are played with no fans watching in person. In short, regular-season games are highly unlikely to be played in front of no in-person audience because of the substantial financial toll it would cause to owners. Yet, there is a small chance that a couple weeks’ worth of games could utilize this method.
Will the virus affect next season?
While the answer to this question might sound obvious, with many shouting no, there are a lot of factors in play. Many experts believe that a vaccine for COVID-19 could take anywhere from a year to 18 months to develop and work successfully in humans. The research may not take as long, but there are always other considerations to take into account when a pandemic occurs. For instance, the legal process of mass-producing and delivering the vaccine to everyday citizens could take months. This is a result of the slow process of government outlined in the U.S. Constitution, which, while smart when there is no mass pandemic, is less useful in times of incredible trouble. Affirmative action could hasten the process; however, the President may choose not to take this position due to unforeseen adverse side effects.
The other way this problem ends is with the majority of the population contracting the virus, called “herd immunity,” thereby making the spread of it safe enough for significant events such as baseball games to happen. This method, however, will inevitably cause the loss of millions of American lives, particularly those belonging to at-risk individuals. The one upside of this happening is that it could take a lot less time to take effect. The virus scare, in this way, could be over in the next few months. The U.K. and U.S. considered this option due to the small amount of time, but both countries have backtracked due to the large toll on lives. While the economy would bounce back faster, millions would die in the process.
Either way, there is an excellent chance that this scare comes in waves, which may interrupt not only this season but the next one as well. The highest mortality rate due to COVID-19 is predicted to be in the middle of this month, but afterward, it could go away and then come back strong once more. This could prompt the U.S. to set the same social distancing rules we have right now in play again. The process may hinder the development of next season, although it is unlikely.
How are minor leaguers affected?
Besides the pay rules, knowing how the coronavirus affects minor leaguers is essential. One of the more noteworthy aspects to assess is the development of prospects. Since the minors start a few weeks after the majors, any obstacle to a full season could be detrimental to the progression of prospects. Many could face lost years, only being able to improve throughout a couple of months. However, there is a positive flip side to this mess. With rosters most likely to be increased to 29-man or 30-man capacities, prospects at the higher levels of the minors could see more time in the MLB. This season will test the depth of each team, and as such, each team will depend on their players in Triple-A as well as the Majors. As a result, the very best the minors have to offer may play on big-league teams before schedule. For Padres’ fans, like myself, this is exciting as MacKenzie Gore and Taylor Trammel may bring their talents to San Diego earlier than expected.
One thing that we know for sure about this unpredictable season is that it will be played like no other before. Never has a season been delayed 2-3 months at the least, and no other season has forced players to compete with no off days and doubleheaders every week. The year will undoubtedly be tough for players but has a chance to be one of the most exciting for fans in recent memory as long as we can persevere through the coming months with no established date for Opening Day. As always, feel free to comment, especially because there may be questions that are left unanswered in this work.
I write, I write, and then I write some more.. Lifelong Padres & Chargers fan who is tired of the acceptance of losing that grips all of San Diego sports fans!