Baseball is Back. For Now.

marc w · June 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Baseball is back. There will be a 2020 season, albeit a weird, short, tournament in which teams don’t play outside of their west/central/east zones. I don’t think anyone really expected this announcement – coming as it did after months of public and acrimonious debate – would make fans feel better about :gestures grandly: all of this, but it feels especially small and tenuous right now.

First, I think it’s demonstrated that owners are willing to take short-term hits if they think they can roll the player’s union. I think we always suspected that was the case, but the drawn-out dissemination of several proposals that all rejected paying players 100% of their pro-rated salaries (depending on the length of the season) resulted in a much shorter season than was technically possible (I say technically, because I’m not sure the virus would’ve allowed the 114-game season the players proposed).

In an environment in which so many teams have a stake in regional cable channels, that could sting. Owners argued that not having fans in stadiums made the agreement they reached with the union in late March unworkable, but that seems strange in a game now dominated not by gate revenue, but by local and national TV rights. Despite this, several owners seemed to argue to cancel the season entirely, not because of Covid fears, but out of a seeming desire to break the union ahead of the critical CBA negotiations next year.

Second, the past few days have demonstrated that even if the owners and players can come to a grumbling agreement, Covid-19 continues to threaten the game. Charlie Blackmon was the highest-profile player to test positive, after he and two teammates worked out not in Arizona or Florida, but at Coors Field…you know, where they Rockies are supposed to start playing in a few weeks. He’s hardly alone, though. The Phillies, Yankees, Blue Jays, and presumably more teams have had minor outbreaks at their Florida facilities, highlighting that a lot can happen between a proposal to send players to spring training facilities when Florida and Arizona had few cases and when a deal is reaches, when Florida and Arizona ICU space is suddenly in short supply.

Players will be thoroughly checked when they report to modified camp in a week-10 days from now. That’ll presumably pick up more asymptomatic cases, and from there, the league will have a really hard time figuring out what to do. In a short season, with a virus that takes this long to become symptomatic (if it ever does), teams face losing a good chunk of their roster for significant fractions of the season. This is not just injurious to competition – it’s a significant risk if those players have or come into contact with immuno-suppressed family or fans. Playing sports at all entails risk, and we can’t drive it to zero, but the national nightmare of Covid-19 response is now reflected in baseball’s preparation for the season. I understand the idea that MLB would provide a distraction or sense of normalcy, but these team camp outbreaks aren’t doing the trick.

Third, as always, it’s the minor leaguers who get hurt the most. Each team will have a “taxi squad” of 30 players that they can call up as needed, and teams will start with 30-man rosters, which are gradually reduced through the first month. The M’s taxi squad will be based in Tacoma, and can presumably train at Cheney Stadium. Jerry Dipoto’s indicated that many of the M’s top prospects, from Logan Gilbert to Julio Rodriguez to Emerson Hancock, may be a part of it. But players won’t be on the 40-man roster unless they’re selected from the taxi squad, and the M’s may be loathe to start the service clock on players in a 60-game season in which the prospects have no real game experience.

And for those NOT on the taxi squad, it’s worse. There may be extended spring training opportunities, but just like regular spring training, players aren’t paid for it. The M’s extended minor league salaries pf $400/week to non-40 man players, but that’s less than they’d make if the season happened. I’m hopeful that the league might expand the Arizona Fall League into a longer, larger event, but again, it’s precisely in the spring training facilities of the sort that the AFL uses that we’ve seen some outbreaks (mostly in Florida, but still). For those who stay healthy, 2020 is looking like a lost year of development.

Teams have to finalize their 40-man rosters and 60 total players who’ll be split between the active and taxi squad rosters by this Sunday. Only the lucky 60 can participate in the weird summer camp that will take place at T-Mobile field before the season starts, and teams can start to make moves/trades/releases on Friday. Players on the outside looking in will be in a tough spot, and those who DO make it will congregate together for several weeks. Good times.

Look, I love baseball, and as awful as a lot of this looks, I’m excited to see the team, or rather, I’m excited to try and follow the development of the taxi squad. I’m glad we’re finally getting real games, but the way this has all happened leaves me more exhausted than relieved or excited. The drip of positive tests from baseball or the rest of the sports world (looking at you, Novak Djokovic) means I’m worried that some team will have to forfeit games or end up playing their taxi squad in “real” MLB games. I am very excited to see Gilber, Kelenic, Rodgriguez, and company, but not playing their first game of the year after half the M’s come down with Covid-19. I don’t envy the M’s having to decide that Gilbert or Hancock is “ready” after watching them do simuluated ABs at Cheney, either.

I appreciate that the league and players are attempting to find solutions in a fast-moving, fluid situation, and that I’m perhaps overly focused on the problems here. But as happy as I’m going to be to have the rhythm and sounds of the game back in my life (at more agreeable times than the KBO/NPB offer), I’m just worried that it could get yanked away again, or that the playoffs will feature whatever teams that had the cleanest clubhouses or best luck with health and safety. I can’t quite imagine getting too emotionally invested in the “postseason” after this sprint of a season, either, not if we’re seeing an uptick in cases, and not if it’s played by random prospects who dodged an outbreak that felled the starters. Go Mariners, and stay healthy. I’ll be here to talk about them, because I can’t quite stay away, but I feel like the weirdest season in MLB history has a few more twists and turns to come. And given that this is the year 2020, I doubt we’ll love any of them.


5 Responses to “Baseball is Back. For Now.”

  1. weasleman42 on June 25th, 2020 4:46 am

    I can’t help but feel optimistic about a shortened season giving the M’s a better chance to reach the postseason. Ah, dreams…

  2. bookbook on June 25th, 2020 9:00 am

    I’m sorry for all of us that we have to endure this.

    Friendly reminder: areas that require masks are seeing transmission fall by 25% or so. areas that don’t require masks are seeing transmission rise by 50% or more. Be like Dan Wilson: wear a mask for safety.

  3. Sowulo on June 26th, 2020 2:35 am

    From Shannon Drayer’s article on MiLB development, I assumed that the M’s taxi squad would be playing inter-squad games daily at Cheney Stadium to give the younger players the closest thing to real experience they can get.

  4. Stevemotivateir on June 27th, 2020 9:49 pm

    I don’t think there’s any real chance of Gilbert, Kelenic, Rodriguez, or Hancock getting thrown to the wolves. If the situation gets that bad, I would imagine that the season would be suspended. That’s something I’ve thought about often.

    I got a kick out of Jerry suggesting they could still contend in 2021. That was optimistic before the pandemic, but if a new CBA eliminates the QO and leads to post-season expansion after the 2021 season, 2022 might still be possible.

  5. Westside guy on June 28th, 2020 11:01 pm

    “Be like Dan Wilson: wear a mask for safety.”

    I tried wearing a catcher’s mask into Starbucks, but they kicked me out of the store.

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