Baseball is (almost) back.
It has been a messy, gross, disgusting three months of negotiating between the MLBPA and MLB, with both sides agreeing to disagree over prorated salaries and commissioner Rob Manfred ultimately imposing a 60-game schedule for the 2020 season.
Manfred's mandate caps off a months-long "will-they-won't-they" storyline fit for a terrible TV sitcom, featuring lots of public bitterness from both sides. With Manfred imposing a season, we'll have Major League Baseball in 2020, unless something insane happens between now and July 23. Which, well, is a major possibility this year.
There are many logistical hurdles that remain, including travel, lodging and travel restrictions still taking hold of different states and two neighboring countries.
When does the MLB season start in 2020?
Spring (summer) training report date: July 1
Regular season start date: July 23 or 24
MLB Opening Day 2020 is slated for around July 24. Players are expected to report to spring (summer) training by July 1/
MLB schedule 2020: How many games will they play?
As implemented by Rob Manfred, the 2020 MLB season will be 60 games long, barring any kind of stoppage for any reason. Full details of the schedule are unknown at this time, but MLB offered some information on June 23.
"The proposed schedule will largely feature divisional play, with the remaining portion of each Club’s games against their opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (i.e., East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West), in order to mitigate travel," MLB said in a press release. Media reports said teams will play 40 intradivision games and 20 interleague games.
That would seem to eliminate the idea of having just three divisions (combining Easts, Centrals and Wests) instead of six this year.
MLB health and safety protocols
MLB sent a 67-page proposal to the MLBPA in May, and a revised 107-page pamphlet in June. Some of the known facts from the proposal:
Social distancing (six feet) encouraged between players not in the game. As in, players and personnel will have to sit far from each other in the stands.
No spitting, no chewing tobacco, no seeds, no general grossness that are player trademarks.
Balls used in-game and touched by multiple players will be removed from the game.
Players will be tested for the coronavirus during the week and temperatures will be taken once a day. Should a positive test occur, the player will be quarantined and will need two negative tests to return to the field.
It seems pie-in-the-sky to try to enforce some of these rules, but hey, at least they're trying. (On paper.)
Will fans be allowed at MLB games?
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported June 4 that MLB would defer to local governments as to whether fans would be allowed at games. That would bode well for a state like Texas, which is reopening despite rising numbers of coronavirus cases and is currently allowing up to 50 percent stadium capacity.
It's difficult to imagine fans in MLB stadiums this season on a large scale, considering the coronavirus pandemic is not contained in most states.
What happened between MLB and the MLBPA?
Take a deep breath. Saying both sides were arguing over money is accurate, but simply blaming the players for the lack of a long season is inaccurate.
Here's how the situation broke down:
In March, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a deal that would pay the players their full prorated salaries over the course of the season, no matter the length of games that would be played. Reportedly, the agreement to pay the players those salaries hinged upon whether there would be fans in the stands. Once it was apparent that it would be unsafe to play games with crowds, the fighting between the sides began.
With owners standing to lose revenue from not having ticket and concession sales, MLB front offices wanted players to take bigger pay cuts for however long the season was played: MLB owners wanted players to take less than fully prorated salaries for the amount of games played. While they increased the number of games in different offers, they kept requesting that the players play for less than their full prorated salaries. The MLBPA scoffed at that.
After lots of back-and-forth and MLB ownership not meeting the players' salary requests, the MLBPA eventually threw down the gauntlet: After one of the last failed attempts at a deal, the players gave Manfred their now-famous "When and Where" ultimatum, essentially asking for the commissioner to impose a season.
If you're going to place most of the blame on the players in not getting a deal done, in the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend."
The reason for the ultimatum was twofold; First, the players were ready to play. After all, they were the ones asking for as long a season as possible, including a 114-game proposal at one point.
The second reason: Players were tired of being shortchanged by ownership, which the players believe was negotiating in bad faith. Asking Manfred to impose a season was one way to gain leverage in whatever grievance they may file (which they will) with an arbiter after a season gets underway. The fact that ownership balked at the idea of wanting a longer season should be proof enough for anyone following along that the players weren't in the wrong. Further proof should be the fact MLB, in its last proposal, was asking for the players to waive their right to file a grievance.
In the end, the owners got exactly what they wanted after a month of dribbling out the clock: The players look like the villains, MLB only has to pay 37 percent salaries of the players' 2020 salaries, and the owners get to keep their books closed to the MLBPA.
All of this is a precursor to the impending labor dispute when the current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2021 season. Here's hoping a deal gets done so we have a 2022 season.
MLB playoffs 2020
With MLB imposing a season, expanded playoffs are off the table for 2020 and 2021. For now, the normal 10-team format will continue.
MLB rule changes
So-called purists are sure to hate these two: There will be a DH in the National League, and all extra innings will begin with a runner on second base and no outs. The change in DH rules was included in the safety protocols, and the extra-inning change is meant to prevent marathon games that would keep team personnel at the park longer than preferred.
MLB roster limits, trade deadline
USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported June 23 that teams will be able to carry 30 players on their active roster for the first 15 days of the season, 28 players until the 28th day and then 26 through the end of the season. There will be no expansion of rosters in September. The Athletic's Jayson Stark reported that the trade deadline this year will be Aug. 31.