For those of us hoping Major League Baseball might start its season by its best-case scenario date of 10 May, the news of an agreement between the league and its players association was a mixed bag.
Announced on 27 March, the agreement seems to assume no restart will occur until June. But it is encouraging in the sense that everyone, in a sport where players and league are so often at odds, seems to be willing to do whatever it might take to get a restart going.
For London, however, there was no good news. Following the massive success of last year's London Games between the Red Sox and Yankees, this year's series matching the Cubs and Cardinals on June 13 and 14th was cancelled on April 1st. This came as no surprise, because trying to factor in the logistics of Covid-19 control in the United Kingdom was obviously something MLB could not bet on.
Players accept pay cut
Domestically, the agreement between league and players gives them a lot of flexibility to eventually resume the season. There were two key compromises.
First, the players agreed to accept two months of reduced payments, which, were the season to resume in that time would be deducted from salaries. Players who are, or have been, eligible to arbitrate their contracts - basically, those with over three years in the major - will get $5,000 a week.
Those with less than three years, on contracts 'split' between major league play and lesser sums for the minors, will get $1,500, $500, or $275, depending on the size of their deals. Current free agents, including those invited to spring training as 'non-roster' players, get nothing, though MLB has suggested they will be addressed. The total payout is $170 million and, to put it into context, MLB's total salary bill for the season would be about $4 billion.
In return the league agreed that the 2020 season, even if cancelled, would count toward players' service time. That means players in the final years of their contracts would become free agents for 2021, players like Mookie Betts, traded from Boston to the Dodgers in the off-season, might become a free-agent without ever having played for LA.
In 2021 slugger Giancarlo Stanton will have the option of opting out of his 13 year $325 million contract signed with Miami in 2014. Thus younger players might become free agents, or arbitration eligible, on schedule, with the chance to make money in 2021.
Player and league on same page in bid to resume season
So with players and league on the same page, they can pursue steps to resume the season, which might include an abbreviated pre-season of two weeks, along with an expanded roster so teams can carry even more pitchers. Starting pitchers take a few weeks to get their arms used to throwing long, six innings or longer, stints. Of course fewer and fewer pitchers go past the seventh inning nowadays anyway! Larger rosters would also make it easier to schedule more double-headers, two games played the same day, which obviously use up more pitching arms.
More importantly, the playoffs can be re-formatted: scheduled later, series lengths shortened, and extended. As baseball in November becomes problematic in places like Boston, Chicago, or Denver, there is the possibility of playing games in neutral sites, in the warmer cities, or in domed stadia.
And of course there is the uncertainty factor of the virus and the response to it. The stated priority is to protect players, staff and fans. For example, the city of Toronto has already ruled out large public gatherings until the end of June, though the mayor later made clear he wasn't ruling out baseball, perhaps with reduced or indeed no crowds at all.
As no one can say where the USA or Canada might be in terms of controlling the spread of the pandemic by that team, it's probably still a long shot on whether we see a World Series for the 2020 season.