MLB News: To Play or Not to Play?

Every day there seems to be more news about the pending MLB season, and some days it leads to optimism and other days to massive pessimism. This week was no different.

On Wednesday, news broke about an in-person meeting in Arizona between commissioner Rob Manfred and Players Association head Tony Clark, and rumors immediately broke that a deal was done.

Well … not so fast. Hours later, both sides said there was no official agreement, but that progress was made, and the framework of a deal was agreed to.

That led to optimism over the next 24 hours as the league made another proposal of 60 games with expanded playoffs and universal designated hitter.

Then on Thursday, the union made another proposal:

  • Seventy-game season starting July 19
  • Full prorated pay
  • Spring training starts the last weekend of June
  • Expanded playoffs with 16 teams in both 2020 and 2021
  • A 50/50 split of the new TV revenue for additional playoff games in 2021
  • $10 million for social justice initiatives
  • Universal designated hitter in 2020 and 2021
  • Clubs granted permission to sell advertisements/patches on uniforms in 2020 and 2021
  • Opt-outs for players who are high risk, protecting their service time and salaries
  • Mutual waiver of grievances

The sides still disagree on the number of games, as the league wants closer to 50, and the players want even more than the proposed 70. Some owners leaked to national media on Thursday that the newest proposal was a non-starter.

However, Manfred said, “This needs to be over. Until I speak with owners, I can’t give you a firm deadline. I told him (Clark) that 70 games was simply impossible given the calendar, but they made that proposal anyway.” That statement from the commissioner doesn’t sound too optimistic.

What’s New

Some of the points in the new proposal are rather interesting. Fans have long debated the National League style of play vs. the American League style of play, which would become moot with a universal designated hitter.

No more pitchers bunting runners over, no more double switches, and a reduction in game-play strategy. That doesn’t sit well with some old-school NL fans.

Another new development would be the 16-team playoffs. If that were in effect last season, we’d have seen 78-84 Texas as the last team in on the AL side, joining Boston and Cleveland as teams that didn’t make it under the old system.

On the NL side, all teams in 2019 would have been over .500, with the 84-78 Cubs as the last team in, joining Arizona and the Mets.

Already this year, we will see the Nike swoosh added to team uniforms, but under the new proposal, teams could sell other advertisements for the front or sleeves of jerseys, much like the NBA already does. These deals would allow owners and teams to make up some of the money lost during the pandemic and without fans coming to the shortened season.

The 50/50 split of 2021 playoff television revenue likely comes from last week’s news that MLB signed an extension to its national TV deal with Turner Sports. That new deal bumps the annual revenue from $350 million to nearly $500 million, and we could see other deals (FOX, ESPN, MLB Network) change with additional playoff games and rounds.

What’s Next?

So what’s next? We sit and wait. Hopefully, this battle of millionaires vs. billionaires will end soon, and MLB will join the likes of the NBA, NHL, UFC, PGA, MLS and world soccer and give us some live sports to watch this summer.

One thing we do know: don’t trust the first news you hear as it seems the news is on a slow trickle these days.

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