Dec 31

2020 can’t be gone too soon

The Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988.

That’s it. That is the only good thing that occurred in this miserable year in which over 345 thousand Americans lost their lives to a pandemic, nearly 20 million Americans have been infected with the virus, and the amazing speed with which vaccines were designed, tested and rolled out was not matched by actual shots in people’s arms. Only some 3 million Americans have been vaccinated in the two weeks since Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna started shipping vials of the product.

On the baseball front the Padres have been loading up in an effort to catch the Dodgers. In three days in December the team acquired “Blake Snell from Tampa Bay. By Monday morning, they had a four-year agreement with top Korean infielder Ha-seong Kim. Several hours later, they ended a weeks-long pursuit by scoring Yu Darvish and his personal catcher, Victor Caratini, in a trade with the Cubs.”

In labor news MLB showed that it believes profit should always come before people, destroying the minor league baseball structure as it had been for decades because it didn’t want to pay so many employees.

There will be 40 fewer minor leagues farm teams next year than there were in 2019. Those cutbacks hit hardest in the South and Midwest. West Virginia lost all four of its minor-league franchises. The entire Appalachian League got the boot. (It has been reconstituted as a summer league for unpaid college athletes.) The minor leagues—which rely on in-person interactions like concessions and ticket sales—were hit hard when the pandemic forced the cancellation of their 2020 seasons, but that’s not why these franchises got kicked to the curb. Plans to dramatically reduce the number of minor league franchises and players were in the works long before that, because Major League Baseball is filled with insufferable ghouls.

You don’t have to speculate about why big-league clubs decided to reduce their minor-league affiliates by 25 percent. They brag about it. In a 2019 piece at FiveThirtyEight titled “Do We Even Need Minor League Baseball?” baseball insiders argued that the minors were an inefficient way of grooming players to become major leaguers. There were more effective ways to, say, add velocity to a teenager’s fastball or improve a hitter’s launch angle than playing games—this kind of work could be done at closed-door facilities, and any time of year. And there were just so many minor leaguers. Why pay all those prospects, when only 10 percent of them will ever get to Chicago?

[snip]

Paying lots of people to play baseball was a problem, in developmental and financial terms, to be solved by paying substantially fewer people to play less baseball, in substantially fewer places. It’s a testament to the almost religious levels of self-absorption among Major League owners and executives that they didn’t think (or perhaps just did not care) about just how awful it sounds to tell people, publicly, that baseball games are a wasteful byproduct of professional baseball, as opposed to the entire point of professional baseball.

[snip]

What little leverage minor league franchises might have had disappeared with their 2020 seasons, although some, like the Staten Island Yankees, are pursuing their options in court. This month, after the realignment became official, the league offered a tepid helping hand to the franchises it had consigned to the scrap heap. Some of them will be absorbed into MLB-sanctioned summer leagues for college baseball players or “draft leagues” for players looking to showcase their wares for scouts—which is to say, they will be replacing rosters of low-paid workers with unpaid amateur volunteers. Others are abandoning the farm system entirely to try their luck in the independent leagues. Nearly two dozen franchises are still figuring out what, if anything, they’ll do next.

Thanks to WBBsAs for the pointer to the minor league story.

Nov 30

The Hot Stove needs stoking

The uncertainty over the pandemic’s scope and duration is having an impact on baseball’s off-season. There haven’t been very many trades or free-agent signings since the World Series ended the last week of October. While MLB has roughly $2 billion per year in revenue from TV rights (Fox, TBS, ESPN), it derives close to $3 billion from gate receipts (tickets, concessions, parking). A sports industry analysis company called Team Marketing Report created a data set showing truly horrific business results for 2020:

TMR annually produces what it calls the Fan Cost Index, a calculation of the average cost for a fan to attend a game for teams across sports. For the 2020 MLB season, TMR produced a data set looking at how much game-day revenue each club missed out on with the absence of fans. The projection draws from TMR’s 2020 MLB Fan Cost Index and uses what each team saw for attendance across its full 2019 slate of games to approximate the spending that didn’t happen for home games in 2020 because fans weren’t in attendance.

The result: More than $5 billion in lost revenue across the league, according to TMR’s calculations. The New York Yankees topped the list, with an estimated $437 million in game-day revenue lost compared to what the Yankees might have drawn with fans attending a traditional 81-game home schedule. The Miami Marlins were on the other end of the scale, at No 30, with $37 million in game-day revenue lost.

See the projected game-day impact for each of MLB’s 30 teams through the gallery above.

If a COVID-19 vaccine or several vaccines become available to the general public by April the season might conceivably begin with fans in the stands, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s also no guarantee that enough of the public will actually get vaccinated, a requirement before any form of herd immunity can be assured. Failing that, baseball may start its season with cardboard cutouts in the seats again with a resulting loss of revenue.

No GM is going to commit a lot of money to a free agent pitcher without having some idea of how much money he or she is going to take in during the years of that pitcher’s contract. I wouldn’t expect a big surge in player contract signing or movement before spring training begins, or even until it’s close to ending. The US may have a better feel for how its vaccination program is proceeding by then.

Jul 05

Festina Lente

Making haste slowly, with setbacks likely.

The Braves’ Freddie Freeman tested positive for COVID-19.

Ten days ago “some number” of Dodger players and/or staff tested positive as well.

The 2020 All-Star Game has been canceled and the 2022 game has been awarded to the Dodgers to make up for it.

From NBC Sports:

…the most shocking part of MLB’s startup of summer training camps this week: Only 1.2 percent of the first 3,185 intake tests of players and other personnel produced positive results — a clear victory for league-wide discipline and apparent respect for safe practices.

On the other hand, those results didn’t include all of the intake testing done during the week. They also didn’t include the positive tests of players and staff that teams already were aware of — including at least 12 from the Phillies more than two weeks ago.

And a cautionary detail of Freeman’s case is that he reportedly tested negative during intake testing — before getting hit “like a ton of bricks” by the virus Thursday, according to his wife’s Instagram post.

Jun 20

The owners propose, the virus disposes

From the Washington Post:

While MLB and the union haggle over the terms of the season and the money each side receives, the virus ultimately will decide how much — or whether — baseball will be played in 2020.

[snip]

MLB is left to decide whether it wants to impose a mini-season, leaving itself open to a potential $1 billion grievance the union would almost certainly file, or use the spread of the virus across the game’s ranks as a reason to punt on 2020 entirely.

At the same time, the players have the choice between accepting MLB’s latest proposal for a 60-game season — which would come with an expanded postseason and an agreement to waive potential grievances — or rejecting the proposal and accepting whatever imposed schedule, probably in the 50-game range, MLB comes up with.

For the first time I am not hopeful that there’ll be any season worth thinking about. Fifty games is ridiculously short, as is anything short of 81, as far as I’m concerned. A fifty game season would require the mother of all asterisks in the record books. But trying to squeeze 81 games plus playoffs by the end of October is impossible, particularly when you have the most visible and trusted public health doctor in the country suggesting MLB really should wrap up the year by the end of September.

We’ll see, but I feel about a 50-game season the way Juliet felt about falling in love with Romeo so quickly:

“I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.”

Jun 05

Impasse?

From the LA Times: Owners don’t want to pay players for more than 50 games if there are no fans in the seats. Players say that’s nonsense, and we’ve accepted all the pay cuts we’re going to in this situation.

I don’t know who’s right, but the chance of baseball in 2020 isn’t looking promising.

From The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

“This threat came in response to an association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.”

The players believe they already took one reduction when they agreed their 2020 salaries would be paid on a prorated basis, based upon the number of games played. MLB maintains the March agreement allowed it to pursue additional cuts based upon language concerning the “economic feasibility” of playing without spectators and suggests the union misrepresented the March deal to players by saying no further negotiation was necessary. The union’s bottom line is that nothing forces the players to accept another reduction.

May 21

MLB’s Health and Safety Plan

Jeff Passan of ESPN breaks it down with an example:

Here is what a day in the life of a baseball player could look like in 2020.

Wake up. Grab the thermometer issued to every player in MLB and take your temperature. Just make sure to do it before eating, drinking or exercising. Then take it again. If it’s over 100 degrees, self-isolate, call the team physician and get ready to take a rapid-response COVID-19 test.

If not, you can go to the stadium. If you’re on the road, it can be on any of the six bus trips to the ballpark instead of the typical early-or-late options. Don’t forget to open the windows. If you’re at home, go to the entrance that can be used only by 101 specifically designated people. Put on a mask. Walk into the stadium. Maybe even be in uniform already. Get your temperature taken again. If it’s still below 100, you’re allowed in the restricted areas: the field, the training room, the weight room, the clubhouse. Or perhaps the auxiliary clubhouse, because social distancing is important, and 6 feet will separate lockers, and locker rooms just aren’t big enough to handle that many people and that much space between them, so the team needs to build another.

Might be your day for a coronavirus test, since there will be a few a week, so get that saliva ready. Also could be the monthly blood test for coronavirus antibodies. Since you can’t use hot tubs, cold tubs, saunas, steam rooms or cryotherapy, there’s no excuse not to get to the 4:30 hitters’ meeting on time. Just check whether it’s on the iPad or outside. Indoor, in-person meetings don’t exist anymore.

At least you can take off the mask on the field. You’ll be out there plenty. It may look a little odd. No water or sports-drink jugs in the dugout. No sunflower seeds or dip. Remember? You can’t spit. Or high-five. Or dap. Or hug.

There’s more, lots more. And this is just the medical side of MLB’s proposals. The money side has yet to be presented to the players.

I don’t know, folks. This is going to be really difficult. As Passan says before he goes into the detail above, “This, or some bargained evolution of it, is what it takes to have a chance at garnering the support of the broad coalition necessary for any sport to return: the backing of federal, state and local governments; the rubber stamp of local health officials; the buy-in of fans; and the collaboration of players.”

May 06

No news is no news

Rumors fly fast and furious, and debunking them happens almost as quickly.

Baseball fans were briefly giddy after former Minnesota Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe tweeted that he heard a second round of spring training was set to begin June 10, with Opening Day following weeks later on July 1.

But that info was quickly debunked by reporters, with [MLB Network’s Jon] Heyman offering further clarity Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately for baseball-hungry fans, Heyman reported that July 1 might be an optimistic start date and not a very likely one.

“The alleged July 1 start date for an MLB season would be wonderful; they’d love to begin then (or close to then), but while there’s hope, things aren’t as certain as that. MLB is still hearing conflicting info from politicians and doctors, and health concerns remain the priority,” Heyman tweeted.

Mar 22

Baseball viewing while self-quarantining

If you’re following your Governors’ requests and staying indoors but you’re tired of reading (or writing, in RBI’s case), MLB has a vast assortment (its words) of classic games available at its vault for free watching. Included:

  • Gibson’s homer (Oct. 15, 1988, World Series Game 1): Though he could barely make it around the bases, Kirk Gibson takes Dennis Eckersley deep for one of baseball’s most iconic big flies.
  • Kershaw twirls a no-no (June 18, 2014): Only an error prevents a perfecto, as Clayton Kershaw strikes out 15 Rockies.
  • Dodgers give Vin a walk-off send-off (Sept. 25, 2016): With legendary announcer Vin Scully behind the mic at Chavez Ravine for the final time, the boys in blue clinch a division title.
  • Kershaw saves the day (Oct. 13, 2016, NLDS Game 5): In a winner-take-all contest on the road, Kershaw comes out of the bullpen on one day of rest to finish off the win for a tiring Kenley Jansen.
  • A blowout for the pennant (Oct. 19, 2017, NLCS Game 5): The Dodgers explode early against the Cubs, with Enrique Hernández’s three homers powering them to their first World Series since 1988.

Those are just the Dodgers’ games, of course. There are plenty of other famous games to see there as well. Check out the page for links to all of them.

Mar 12

Here we (don’t) go: Season opening postponed

Remainder of spring training is canceled and the regular season has been delayed.

Following a call with the 30 clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic. This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, clubs and our millions of loyal fans.

MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days. As of 4 p.m. ET today, forthcoming Spring Training games have been cancelled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Ariz., have been postponed indefinitely.

MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule. MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.

Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans. MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.

Mar 10

Kershaw named Opening Day starter

For the ninth time in ten years. He started last season on the injured list. Buehler will start Game Two and Price Game Three of the first series against the Giants at Dodger Stadium.

That assumes that MLB starts its season on time, of course. The coronavirus is moving quite quickly around the country; some events (SXSW!) have been canceled altogether, others (Coachella) have been postponed. Some events have turned away spectators, playing games in empty arenas.

In an abundance of caution all of the major sports leagues (MLB, NHL, MLS and NBA) have closed their locker rooms to the press. One wonders how quickly they’ll rescind that order once the virus is controlled (assuming it is).

In other Dodgers’ news, Corey Seager says he’s feeling better than he has since his Rookie of the Year season of 2016.