The fallout from the Cleveland Indians‘ team meeting that saw pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac sent home could have wide-ranging implications on both the Indians’ season as well as the financial future of the talented starters.
The Indians have questions about what to do with their pitchers — and how to jump-start an offense that has struggled for most of the 2020 season. The rest of baseball isn’t lacking for questions, either. Here are 20 of the most pertinent — with answers.
Why didn’t Major League Baseball suspend Clevinger and Plesac?
Technically it could have. In the updated coronavirus regulations agreed upon by the league and union, sources said, the commissioner can discipline for “just cause.” MLB already has sent letters to players for violating protocols, sources said, but none has resulted in suspension.
That said: The notion that Clevinger and Plesac are the only players in baseball running afoul of protocols is laughable. The stories are manifold: going out to dinner on the road, golfing, flying in wives and girlfriends who haven’t been regularly tested. Without automatic suspensions, these sorts of things will happen. With them, of course, they probably would, too.
When baseball chose to operate outside of a bubble, it did so understanding that even if a vast majority of players abided by the protocols, some wouldn’t, and nobody would know. The addition of a monitor helped catch Plesac and may well prevent other issues going forward. But discipline from the league is a cudgel likely to be used only in a dire situation. Especially when the prospect of demotion actually can behoove an organization financially like it could Cleveland.
The MLB Players Association has monitored the demotions of Clevinger and Plesac and could potentially pursue a grievance for lost service if the Indians keep either on option for 20 days. Similarly, were the league to suspend a player without pay for a violation of coronavirus protocols, the union likely would push back.
Is it me, or does it sound like MLB and the union are actually working together?
It’s true. After a brutal three-month stretch of negotiating over a potential season and the eventual implementation of a 60-game schedule by commissioner Rob Manfred, the league and union have navigated a treacherous beginning to the season with equanimity.
Top officials from both sides talk daily and have navigated a number of potentially troublesome roadblocks, from the rocky start to testing to rescheduling dozens of games postponed because of positive tests to the latest: an agreement to allow COVID-positive players to apply for reinstatement after 10 days and return to the field even if they continue to test positive at the 14-day mark, according to sources. The arrangement, first reported by Jon Heyman, follows the latest CDC guidelines that indicate a person’s level of contagiousness lessens within that time frame to the point where he or she can emerge safely from quarantine.
If they’re getting along, does this bode well for players agreeing to a postseason bubble?
Sure does. Now, a few things. First: What MLB is considering isn’t a bubble in the self-contained, NBA-Disney sense. Baseball’s would be more of a restrictive version of its protocols, specifically dictating where one lives and can go. Second: The players, while party to any conversation about the postseason, recognize that the league will implement its desired postseason format and that their power in the matter is minimal.
Still, the likelihood that players would make a fuss over a postseason bubble, as they did in April when the possibility of a full-season bubble was first reported, is far lower. The playoffs are incredibly important to baseball. The league stands to make upward of $1 billion in television revenue. The players negotiated a $50 million playoff pool. Both sides want to crown a champion. A month in relative isolation — especially with the dwindling number of players affected as teams get deeper into the postseason — is palatable.
Something the league could do to alleviate concerns from the players: Find a way to involve their families in the bubble. Remember, players’ initial concerns about a bubble plan almost all centered around the potential exclusion of families.
While doing so would add hundreds more people to monitor — and hundreds more who could be vectors for infection — there are potential compromises. Perhaps families would be allowed to enter a bubble before the division series, when there would be only eight teams left. Or maybe prior to the league championship series, with four teams remaining. Either way, it is something on the mind of players, sources said, that will be brought up in discussions as MLB forges ahead with its planning.
How else could a bubble help?
There’s the obvious: tighter protocols mean lesser potential for infection. While a strict bubble for the wild-card round is tricky — even a Los Angeles/San Diego or Chicago/Milwaukee bubble would have difficulty staging eight series at a time — starting with two hub cities (Los Angeles and New York?) and moving to a warm-weather or domed environment starting in the division series (Los Angeles or Houston/Arlington) is promising.
Further: A bubble means no travel. And while no travel is good for coronavirus concerns, it has an ancillary benefit: no travel days. No travel days means the league could adjust the playoff schedule. That’s important, because for a true bubble to exist, MLB would need to bake intake days into the schedule — days it currently does not have. It also theoretically could allow the playoffs to begin slightly later if teams need to make up games to reach the full 60 scheduled.
This is, by no means, a certainty. MLB would need the approval of TV networks that want games on particular nights, and fewer days off during a series would benefit teams with more pitching depth. But if the St. Louis Cardinals finish the season with, say, 56 games played, and MLB mandates that a team needs 60 to qualify for the playoffs, perhaps an extra day or two stolen from what would’ve been an October off day allows them to reach a full slate.
If not that, then what’s the plan with the Cardinals?
Editor, please insert shrug emoji
(Editor’s note: No, Jeff.)
This is what happens when you try to get too cute.
Fine. But seriously, there’s no good answer. Already it’s crazy that the Cardinals are trying to play 53 games in 44 days with 11 doubleheaders. But scheduling as close to 60 games as possible may be the best of a quiver of broken arrows.
In recent weeks, as the Cardinals sat out following a coronavirus outbreak, multiple National League players texted saying it’s completely unfair that they have to endure the rigor of 60 games while the Cardinals potentially compete in fewer and are judged based on winning percentage. This is eminently reasonable.
On the other hand, the Cardinals were waylaid by a global pandemic of a highly communicable disease. They didn’t want a COVID outbreak. They certainly weren’t served well by it, with the daunting schedule they restarted Saturday and the difficulty of doing so having spent the previous two weeks staying major-league-ready with a combination of hotel room “training” for the first week and at-home workouts for the second.
This was a true no-win situation. And considering that everything needs to go right for the Cardinals to play all of their 58 scheduled games — perfect weather, seamless travel, no COVID positives among opponents — MLB may just be delaying the inevitability of a decision on St. Louis that’s bound to anger someone.
So, how are the Cardinals going to pull this off?
The hardest part will be keeping their pitching healthy. Veteran Adam Wainwright returned Saturday with five excellent innings. Dakota Hudson threw four strong innings Sunday. Someone like Jack Flaherty, their franchise linchpin, may be slower to build up. He’s slated to start Wednesday, though that depends on his bullpen session Monday.
How does St. Louis balance winning with prioritizing health? It’s a question without a great answer, par for the course in 2020. “What we’re going to do with our rotation is going to look for some individuals a lot like spring training Game 1,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “For others, it might look like Game 3. By no means will anyone be knocking out seven or eight innings in their first couple of outings.”
As much as the Cardinals have tried to map out their pitchers’ return, and as much as the 28-man roster and seven-inning doubleheader games help them traverse the reality of at least 407 innings pitched over the remainder of their schedule, it’s still an immensely difficult task and one that will test the fortitude of a team expected to reach the postseason before its outbreak.
Speaking of seven-inning doubleheaders, how do people feel about them?
This is quite the hot topic, because there is a feeling among some players that MLB is using pandemic baseball to test how fans react to seven-inning games with an eye on shortening all games and not just doubleheaders.
While it’s true that some people at the league are intrigued by seven-inning games, the idea that baseball will adjust one of its most fundamental tenets — a game goes nine innings — is far-fetched.
By the end of the season, though, there will be quite the sample to parse. How does pitcher usage change in seven-inning games? How does two fewer innings affect strategy? And, perhaps most pertinent, how long do seven-inning games last?
What intrigues the officials in favor of seven-inning games is the combination of a potential re-emphasis on starting pitching (starters went at least seven innings 767 times last year and nine innings just 38), the urgency created with fewer innings, and the potential drastic reduction in time of game. So far, there have been 14 seven-inning games played since the early-August institution of the doubleheader rule.
Their average time of game: 2 hours, 34 minutes.
The average nine-inning game in 2020, according to Baseball Reference: 3 hours, 6 minutes, higher than it ever has been.
On one hand, as attention spans wane and the bounty of home entertainment options grows, it’s easy for baseball to say that shaving more than 30 minutes off of its game time is a net positive — something that could be alluring for someone who finds the three-hour-plus mark of an average game a psychological barrier that simply makes baseball untenable.
On the other, more baseball is always better, right? And it’s not just that seven-inning games would provide, over the course of a regular season, nearly 5,000 fewer innings. It’s the clear effect on statistics, which are such an integral part of the game. And the reality that if players are playing less and putting up less counting stats, owners, in all likelihood, would want to pay them less. And that if the game is evolving back toward starting pitching, bullpen jobs would disappear, and the union would hate that. And on and on and on.
One official, when asked about seven-inning games as a panacea, put it succinctly: “This is addressing the problem, not the cause.”
What’s the problem?
The evolution of the game away from action. This is a real issue. This is the issue.
Baseball Reference tweeted a damning statistic last week. It found that the average time between balls in play in 2020 was 3 minutes, 52 seconds. That was 36 seconds higher than 2011. Over a decade, that’s an 18.4% increase. Going back 50 years, it’s a 41.5% increase.
I firmly believe baseball players today are better than they’ve ever been. Better at pitching, better at hitting, better at fielding. Of course, when there are nearly four minutes between balls in play, the latter two elements are less frequent than ever, too. When people accuse baseball of being boring, perhaps it’s because action has been weeded out of the game.
So far in 2020, players are striking out at the second-highest rate ever. (The highest: 2019.) It’s been 20 years since plate appearances ended in a walk with such high frequency. Batting average was last this low in 1968.
You mean 1968, as in the year after which MLB lowered the mound because pitchers were too dominant?
Yup. And while this isn’t exactly 1968 — the leaguewide slugging percentage this year of .413 is 73 points higher than ’68 — hitting feels like something of a lost art. To wit:
Teams this year are averaging 7.98 hits per game. That’s the lowest since ’68. Before that: 1909. If baseball continues at its current pace, it will finish the 2020 season with 15,704 strikeouts and 14,360 hits. One reason for optimism: batting average on balls in play is just .285 instead of the typical .295 to .300. If it returns to average, hits will climb too.
Even with the power spike, it’s mostly home runs. Teams are hitting 1.56 doubles per game, the lowest mark since 1991, and 0.15 triples per game, which would be the lowest ever. (Though admittedly in line with recent history: Triples haven’t exceeded 0.2 per game since the 1994 strike.)
What else is changing?
Teams are averaging 0.47 stolen bases per game. The last time they pilfered that infrequently: 1971.
Pitchers are hitting batters at a historic rate: 0.48 per game, the highest ever, topping the seven previous highest years of 1890, 1891, 1895, 1897, 1898, 1899 and 1900.
With the implementation of the universal designated hitter, the sacrifice bunt might as well be dead. There have been 32 sacrifices in 21,875 plate appearances, a rate of 0.05 per game and a decrease of 65.7% from last season.
There have been only 54 sacrifice attempts all season. Seven teams haven’t even tried a sac bunt: the Angels, Braves, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rays, Tigers and Twins. Of them, only Arizona and Minnesota have bunt hits.
Other consequences of the universal DH: intentional walks are at their lowest rate ever of 0.08 per game, down 45.9% from the record low last year. And pinch hitting is at its lowest point in a century. Teams are using 0.70 pinch hitters per game, the scarcest mark since 1921.
Some of those things aren’t altogether bad. Games change. It happens. What about something that’s going to actually affect baseball this year?
Like, a boring trade deadline?
Yeah. It’s not a given — there has, executives said, been more trade talk than they expected — but the barriers to most deals are rather high.
Consider the frailty of the season. Teams have seen the havoc a COVID outbreak can wreak. As confident as executives may be in the protocols and their ability to follow them, they recognize that one irresponsible player, coach, trainer or staffer could bushwhack their season. It doesn’t even take that. Maybe a player’s kid returns to school in September and comes home with COVID. The 2020 season is a black-swan event waiting to happen.
The unknown doesn’t end there. For teams looking to deal players, the amount of information they have on potential return will be at its lowest point in more than a decade. Teams operate with a wealth of information: up-to-date scouting reports, makeup dossiers, in-game metrics. They understand that they don’t know everything they can about someone outside their organization, but the breadth of knowledge gives comfort.
Not this year. Scouts aren’t allowed in major league parks or at opponents’ alternate training sites, where most top minor leaguers have gathered. A simple personality question — how has Player X handled the pandemic? — is almost impossible to verify. Last week did bring some hope about measurables, with ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel reporting teams were able to opt into a data- and video-sharing program from their alternate sites. I asked him to write a few paragraphs on what that means.
After the shortened season began, it was understood that there would be drastically reduced trade activity due to the combination of clubs not wanting to disrupt their clubhouses and the black box that was any information on prospects at alternate sites.
Clubs had the option earlier this week to opt in to an alternate site data- and video-sharing arrangement facilitated by MLB. It’s a simple setup: submit whatever video and TrackMan data you’ve been recording to MLB, and you’ll get what’s been submitted by other clubs that opted in. Out of contention and want to trade a big leaguer for a top prospect? Now you know what they’ve looked like for the last handful of weeks, so that hurdle to trades is now much shorter, if not removed.
One of the most common versions of the deadline deal — the rental reliever in a walk year, swapped for a prospect in A-ball — still doesn’t seem that much more likely. There aren’t many A-ball type prospects at alternate sites and some clubs may still not think adding a seventh-inning reliever is worth disrupting the clubhouse.
And that leads nicely into another point: Before most deals are done, teams are going to want to know if a player will report to his new team or opt out of the 2020 season. This doesn’t exactly give every player a no-trade clause, but if a team wants to deal for him, and he suggests he won’t report, the likelihood of a deal being consummated lessens.
So you’re saying there aren’t going to be any trades before Aug. 31?
Not no trades. Just way fewer. Take all of the above, add the fact that 16 teams are making the playoffs and remember that today, exactly two weeks before the deadline, every team in baseball is within five games of a playoff spot, and the number of sellers lines up to look nothing like it does in a typical season.
If you’re going to murder the trade deadline, Passan, at least tell me the hot stove is going to be roaring?
Well, it’s going to be interesting. Teams always need players. Figuring out who’s worth what, with pandemic economics in play, coming off a small-sample-size season, will, if nothing else, be a fascinating window into how individual teams see the immediate and long-term futures.
Some players are setting themselves up quite nicely. Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto is the best free-agent position player this winter, and he and Bryce Harper have been arguably the best duo in baseball this season. (Shoutout, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story.) Cincinnati right-hander Trevor Bauer has the highest strikeout rate (14.90 per nine innings) and lowest ERA (0.93) of any starter with at least 18 innings. Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu was hitting an AL-best .411 before hitting the injured list. Minnesota DH Nelson Cruz‘s better-with-age tour continues: .342/.416/.620 with the seventh-highest average exit velocity on line drives. And Alex Colome‘s evolution into a nouveau Mariano Rivera — he throws a cutter nearly 80% of the time — has paid dividends: He hasn’t given up a run for the White Sox and is 5-for-5 in save opportunities.
Others have struggled to distinguish themselves. While Oakland has the best record in baseball at 16-6, shortstop Marcus Semien is hitting just .216/.262/.361 after finishing third in the AL MVP race last season. Houston center fielder George Springer has mitigated his .193 batting average with a bevy of walks, but his four extra-base hits in 74 plate appearances lag well behind his historic rate. Arizona starter Robbie Ray had the Robbie Rayest game possible Sunday: five innings, no hits, one run, six walks, four strikeouts. Ray has walked a major-league-high 20 in 22 innings. Yankees left-hander James Paxton‘s fastball velocity is off 3 mph from his typical 95.5 mph range, and he has accordingly been uncharacteristically hittable.
Realmuto and LeMahieu and Cruz and Colome were good last year, too. Bauer wasn’t. What has changed?
Well, he has been healthy, and that always helps. But there’s more, and a look beyond his stat line and into other numbers illustrates it.
Prior to 2020, Bauer’s career average spin rate on his four-seam fastball has been 2,306 revolutions per minute, according to Statcast. Last season, it ticked up to 2,412 rpm. This year? It’s 2,801 rpm, the highest in the major leagues among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 four-seamers.
Bauer has seen significant upticks in each of his other three main pitches. His pre-2020 career average, 2019 average and 2020 average RPMs:
Curveball: 2,535, 2,549, 2,840
Slider: 2,649, 2,736, 2,982
Cutter: 2,504, 2,640, 2,901
How has he made such extraordinary spin-rate leaps on each of his pitches? Well, in 2018, Bauer tweeted: “My fastball is about 2250 rpm on average. I know for a fact I can add 400 rpm to it by using pine tar. Look how much better I would be if I didn’t have morals…”
What he meant by “morals” was illustrated in a previous tweet, which said: “The rules should be enforced as they’re written. Pine tar is more of a competitive advantage in a given game than steroids are.”
The use of pine tar as a grip agent by pitchers is time honored. While MLB’s foreign-substance rule outlaws it, the league enforces the regulation only when it is so blatantly and egregiously obvious the public outcry practically demands it or managers ask umpires for a foreign-substance check that reveals illicit sticky stuff.
Perhaps it is just coincidence that Bauer has said he could add 400 rpm to his fastball by using pine tar and has added almost exactly 400 rpm this season. There is no clear evidence that he has used a foreign substance in 2020.
The numbers also don’t lie. High-spin fastballs, as a graphic included in the first Bauer tweet referenced above indicates, are far more effective than their lower-spin brethren. Bauer’s past questioning on the subject sought consistency. Either enforce the rule or don’t and legalize grip enhancements for pitchers. Because otherwise, the incentive is there for pitchers to start using them. Those who don’t are costing themselves money and their teams wins.
Bauer, on the cusp of free agency, is set to cash in if he keeps pitching like he has. The Reds, who have playoff aspirations, could use that ace-level performance if they want to make the postseason. And it would be just like Bauer to relinquish that moral underpinning simply to prove a point about baseball’s seeming double standard when it comes to foreign substances and how much better they really can make pitchers.
Well, that seems like the pettiest thing you’ll see this year, right?
Not so fast, my friend! Earlier this year, as MLB and the players were in the midst of their interminable arguing, the league was threatening to cancel the draft. The chief proponent of that, sources said, was Colorado Rockies owner Dick Montfort, who is part of the league’s powerful labor-policy committee.
The draft wound up being cut from 40 rounds to five, and the signing bonuses for players were put on a two-year payment plan with only $100,000 maximum given up front. With every drafted player signing, they were added to their teams’ rosters and joined the thousands of other minor leagues who are being paid a stipend of around $400 a week through the end of August.
Well, except for the Rockies. Their 2020 draft picks are not receiving the $400 a week. One Rockies employee, when asked why, said: “Our owner.”
The players who signed in late June/early July would’ve been in line for about nine weeks of pay — or $3,600. Instead of spending another $21,600 to welcome his newest crop of players into the organization, Montfort chose to make a point. And that point is that he values his principles, wrongheaded though they may be, over his players.
What else is going on with the minor leagues?
Just your average internecine conflict.
Minor League Baseball has been in flux ever since MLB’s plan to cut 25% of affiliated teams was revealed. With the Professional Baseball Agreement that governs the MLB-MiLB relationship expiring Sept. 30, the possibility of drastic changes to affiliated baseball has prompted what one source deemed “an internal holy war” between MiLB and the organizations under its umbrella.
While Minor League Baseball technically oversees the 160 affiliated teams, MLB has explored the possibility of bringing the minor leagues under its umbrella. That left MiLB scrambling to preserve its independence — and, really, itself period. As J.J. Cooper at Baseball America has so wonderfully chronicled, MiLB’s efforts to save itself have turned into an almost-comedic power struggle.
On Aug. 3, Pat O’Conner, the MiLB president and CEO, disbanded the committee that was negotiating the PBA and replaced it with loyalists, Cooper reported. Eight days later, MiLB’s board of trustees voted to oust the O’Conner-appointed team and reinstall most of the original group. Owners of minor league teams feared O’Conner was putting MiLB ahead of the affiliated teams and remain concerned because, as one owner told ESPN, MiLB’s rules concentrate so much power with the president “that Putin would be envious.”
Without any minor league games this season, organizations around the country find themselves in financial trouble. Enough teams could fold that organizations MLB sought to eliminate may simply go away. Which, fundamentally, is a suboptimal outcome. Minor league baseball is many small cities’ lifeline to the sport.
The minor league owner said he hopes to strike a deal with MLB that puts affiliated teams in the best position to withstand the pandemic. Whether that includes MiLB overseeing them will depend on the course of upcoming negotiations.
All the rookies who should be coming up from the minor leagues — are we actually going to see any more this year?
Hopefully. Because if pandemic ball has proved anything through a third of the season, it’s that teams seemingly with no postseason hope entering the season may just need a prospect or two to push themselves into October.
Look at the 12-9 Baltimore Orioles. They entered the season as 300-1 underdogs to win the World Series. Were the playoffs to start today, they would be the No. 7 seed in the AL playoffs and face the Yankees in a three-game wild-card series. Would they be better served in chasing a playoff spot with Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, playing catcher? Granted, Pedro Severino has been a revelation, but the ascendance of a prospect of Rutschman’s ilk would lend even more legitimacy to the 2020 season, even if it would start his service clock ahead of when Baltimore expected.
The promotion of Rutschman is less likely than that of Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, who could find himself in Detroit sooner than later. The Tigers, who are 9-10 and a half-game back of the No. 8 playoff position, have open spots in their rotation Tuesday and Wednesday. They did lose first baseman C.J. Cron for the season to a knee injury, which could hinder their chances going forward but also opens up a potential 40-man roster spot for Mize or Matt Manning, another highly regarded right-hander.
Promising outfielder Dylan Carlson joined the Cardinals in their return this week. Philadelphia called up third baseman Alec Bohm to add pop to its lineup. The Angels inserted outfielder Jo Adell in their lineup. More prospects could, and should, be coming.
They’re all at the alternate sites right now. What are those like?
Something of a black box. There is no scouting them. Public data and video are almost nonexistent. Every team is treating its site differently.
Most are comprised of a mixture between Triple-A sorts there to help backfill for injuries and an Arizona Fall League team loaded with prospects. For much younger players in particular, sources said, the exposure to higher-level players and veterans has been helpful. But for those like Carlson — say, the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux or Seattle’s Jarred Kelenic, two ready-for-the-show players — the structure of the alternate site may not lend itself well to their development.
One prospect’s week recently looked like this:
Because the alternate site has a maximum of 30 players, some games wind up with staffers playing positions. There are not enough arms to stage daily nine-inning games, either. MLB is exploring adding up to 15 players to each alternate site, which should help with that issue. But in weighing a top prospect’s development, there’s an argument to be made that even if it starts his service clock (as it would with Kelenic), having him spend time in the major leagues is more advantageous to a team’s future than a potentially wasted year of development at an alternate site.
How real are the Rockies?
Aside from the Orioles and Marlins, no team has surprised quite like the Rockies. Their 13-8 record is no fluke, either, as their plus-23 run differential is the second best in the NL behind the Dodgers, who are a major-league-leading plus-60.
The Rockies are winning with great offense, better-than-expected pitching and doing the little things well. For example: The Rockies have made productive outs — advancing a runner with no outs or driving in a baserunner with the second out of the inning — on 32.8% of their opportunities, the highest mark in baseball. When there is a man on third with less than two outs, they have driven him in 31 of 43 times, the highest rate by more than 10%. Their baserunning has been stellar, too. Colorado has gone first to third or second to home on a single, or first to home on a double, in 55% of their chances — second in MLB to Arizona.
Are we really ready to say a team is real after 21 games?
Jeff Passan breaks down the scheduling options for the Reds and Pirates after Saturday’s and Sunday’s games were called off due to a positive coronavirus test for Cincinnati.
Real is relative in 2020. The 60-game schedule recalibrated everything. If Colorado plays .500 baseball from this point forward, it will almost certainly make the postseason. That’s why even a five-games-over-.500 start is so big.
It also makes the teams in the inverse position so intriguing. Playing baseball in 2020 is extraordinarily difficult. The protocols offer little freedom to players. The atmosphere at games, as one player said this week, feels “soulless.” And if there is no postseason to play for? Well, one general manager posited, that’s dangerous for the sport.
Because a player who is tired of the protocols and the games and the losing, he suggested, is likelier to ignore them. And while there is no evidence yet of team-to-team on-field transmission, the turmoil caused by a single COVID case, let alone an outbreak, is very real. Consider this weekend. A Cincinnati player tested positive after the Reds’ victory Friday. The Reds’ games Saturday and Sunday were postponed.
If a similar incident happens in mid-September and there are no dates on the calendar to make up the games, how does MLB handle that? Even worse, if there’s an outbreak and a team has to shutter for a week, what does it do? Would MLB force it to play with a team from its alternate-site roster? Every day that goes by, every page on the calendar that flips, makes such a scenario likelier.
The GM’s suggestion: Do what the NBA did and eliminate teams out of playoff contention. The issues, of course, are too plenty for that to even be a consideration. The teams have local TV obligations to fulfill. The schedule would be a wreck. Figuring out the right date by which to cull the field could prove unnecessarily cumbersome.
Nevertheless, it raises the potential — even likelihood — of players on losing teams opting out before the season is over. Anyone who does so would forfeit money and service time, so players with fewer than six years of service would be far less prone. And yet with baseball in 2020 as much of a production as it is, some players have wondered aloud: Is all this worth it?
If Cincinnati gets the go-ahead to play Tuesday, MLB could have its first full slate of games since July 26. The prospect of more postponements is inevitable, as is the sport confronting the challenges of teams respecting protocols. Nobody said this was going to be easy, and it most certainly hasn’t been. But here baseball is, chugging ahead, literally one day at a time, hoping it’s better than the last.