2020 has been a year for the history books, and the chapter is draining.
As for Major League Baseball, this has been the lowest the league has been since the 1994 season ending strike. It took a steroid induced home run chase in 1998 to revive the sport. While it looks like we will have half a season of baseball in 2020, MLB is on the brink of doomsday.
Here is a broad outline of how the next 2 years of MLB could play out leading up to a possible work stoppage in 2022.
Here is where the visions of the future begin to truly get murky. After staggering through the Summer games, and crowding a champion in October, MLB will have huge quandaries. The financial state of the game will for the first time enter an offseason without new found revenue. Teams will not go under, the sport is too rich for one season without fans income to be catastrophic. However the owners, who look at this as a business first, will look to cut corners to save money.
Fair or not, the lost revenue of 2020 will heavily impact free agency and payrolls for the upcoming seasons.
MLB baseball is unlike any other sport during the offseason. Hundreds of players varying in skill, all hit the free agent market at once. Generally the big name free agents will dictate the pace of the market, but the upcoming free agency will be different.
Mookie Betts, George Springer and J.T. Realmuto are the top tier free agents this coming winter. Each of them were expecting to cash in on generational money. For Betts, we are talking $300 million type of money. From all indications from agents and team officials, that big deal won’t happen, not this offseason.
It has been rumored more likely for the top tier guys to snag a one year deal at high money, then go back and try it again in what will hopefully be a better situation to cash in.
The real concern is for the mid tier talents, and the guys who are borderline 25-man roster worthy. Owners have shown the willingness to overspend for their top talents, but always try to cut corners with the mid market. The headlines will be about Betts, but the true black eye will be the damage caused to the others.
With that said, the potential problems are just beginning.
According to union sources, the MLB anticipates a “normal year” of baseball in 2021, assuming there’s a COVID-19 vaccine. To anticipate a normal year and assuming a COVID-19 vaccine will exist is extremely irresponsible for the league.
Nobody has a gauge on the virus. Every week new information comes out, sometimes disregarding the previous news cycle. There is no guarantee the guidelines for a 2020 return tonally will even keep the players safe. To assume anything about 2021 will be normal is blasphemous.
The ban on mass gatherings will not be lifted until a vaccine is in place. The MLB could be looking at another year, this time a full year of baseball being played in empty stadiums. That is another year of having less revenue than projected.
Even if the ban is lifted, attendance will not be sold out for numerous reasons. For one the negotiations lost some part of the fan base. And for those who stuck around, will they be comfortable going to a packed stadium of 50,000 people?
For the players, they will be playing in the final year of the CBA. The moral around the sport, both on the field and those in suits, will be very low. We saw how ugly these negotiations can get between the two sides. Their inability to find common ground could reach new levels at the worst possible time.
Impending 2022 Labor Negotiations
If you thought the COVID negotiations were bad, let me introduce you to the new collective bargaining negotiations.
The baseball labor deal expires on Dec. 1, 2021. If the current state of broken down trust and pure hatred for one another doesn’t signal Armageddon for these negotiations then I don’t know what does.
“The players have been handed a very bad card,” an attorney on the players’ side admitted. “They’re already losing a half to two-thirds of their salaries for 2020. I know they’re showing great solidarity now. But it will be very hard to ask them to lose paychecks again in 2022.”
For the owners however, the idea of two years without attendance revenue, combined with a possible work stoppage could be insurmountable.
“The fact that the industry is going to lose $3 (billion) or $4 (billion) or $5 billion (this year),” he said. “That’s a lot of money to lose. It’s not something you can cover in the short term.”
The attorney goes on to say “if we have a work stoppage, I don’t see how 10 to 12 teams get through it. I mean they don’t get out the other side. I’m talking about, they file for bankruptcy. I could even see bankruptcy for the league, which could mean you’d have player contracts getting voided. I don’t think that’s off the table if there’s a work stoppage.”
Earlier I stated owners can financially withstand a year of losing revenue. But two full seasons without the fans revenue plus a work stoppage would be catastrophic for about a third of the league.
When told that there are owners who believe the result of a work stoppage could be bankruptcies of multiple franchises, a players agent’s response was a simple: “Have at it. If you want to sell, you’ll have buyers … at a profit. We’re not going to be threatened by doomsday scenarios. If you want to cancel the season, that’s on you.”
The sport appears to be at its lowest point since the 1994 work stoppage and the steroid scandal. Unless the MLB owners and MLBPA can quickly put this past them and find common ground going forward, the current state of the game will continue to dismantle in the coming years.
It is good news that guidelines have been set for a potential start to the 2020 season. The two sides finding common ground could be a step in the right direction for the 2022 CBA negotiations. For the sake of the sport and everyone involved, let’s hope it is.