MLB proposes universal designated hitter, 82-game season


Photo Courtesy of Mitchell Leff / Getty Images / TNS

A baseball with the MLB logo sits at Citizens Bank Park before a game between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies on June 28, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

By Rich Eberwein, Staff Writer

Baseball has been on hiatus for over two months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to trudge along. Despite the virus and all of its complications, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred floated a plan for baseball to return over to the MLB Player’s Association on Tuesday. This proposal will likely get turned down and lead to potentially unpleasant negotiations between the parties in the near future. First, let’s dive into what the season would look like under the proposal.

82-game season and universal designated hitter

With at least two months of the season essentially tossed into the nether of the coronavirus, the MLB is biting the bullet and calling for 82 games to be held and games reaching our televisions at the beginning of July. That would put the World Series at its normal timeframe at the end of October. The postseason could be tweaked in the negotiations if players ask for more games, which would mean more salary for them under the current terms, and possibly move the World Series into November or December.

For the sake of keeping teams isolated geographically, interleague games would be more prominent, with both Central Leagues competing on a regular basis, both East Leagues doing the same and so on. With more interleague games, the MLB called for the designated hitter to be adopted in the National League for some games played in 2020. The DH would protect pitchers who will be more prone to injury, having not been pitching in games for the last two months. The DH was adopted by the American League in 1973 and is likely to find its way to the National League when the current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2021 season.

Spring training and expanded rosters

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Spring Training would begin in mid-June and be held by each team individually in their own ballparks, pending each state’s approval. Spring Training games between teams will likely not happen. With pitchers having to get their arms stretched out all over again, the proposal would allow teams to have an active roster of 30 players with a 20-man “backup squad” consisting of minor leaguers. There has been no official word of a Minor League season. On April 21, Baseball America’s JJ Cooper reported Minor League Baseball is likely to be reduced from 160 affiliated teams to 120.

Expanded postseason

Under this tentative plan, 14 teams would make the post-season. Divisions would remain as they are, but competitions would be scheduled differently with more interleague games as mentioned above. The details after that are still unknown, but there would presumably be two more Wild Card teams per league.

The All-Star Game was going to be held at Dodger Stadium and is likely to be postponed from July 14. Whether the Dodgers will host the All-Star game in 2021 or have it slip through their fingers entirely is also yet to be determined. If there is no season, the Dodgers could lose not only revenue from the All-Star game but also miss out on Mookie Betts, as he will reach free agency after the 2020 season. Players are guaranteed service time for 2020 whether games are held or not. Yikes.

Does all of this mean baseball will happen this year? The simple answer is no, as this is just a proposal and the MLB and owners require the approval of players for a season to happen, which they currently do not have. Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle has already pointed out on Twitter that the proposal lacks any mention of health protections for players, staff, stadium workers and families. The bigger picture here is that we are in the middle of a pandemic, so before we get ahead of ourselves, safety should be of paramount importance.

In addition to the lack of health guarantees, the proposal, which was approved by all thirty MLB owners, looks to compensate players in the form of 50% of all revenue brought in from the shortened season should it be played. This was not what MLB and MLBPA agreed on in March when Spring Training was postponed. At that time, players were guaranteed $170 million for the months of April and May and agreed this would be the only money they would get if there was no 2020 season. If circumstances saw teams play at least 81 games, which is what this new proposition suggests, players would receive 50% of their previously agreed-upon salaries.  If 120 games are played, that number would be bumped to 74%. MLB is now taking the stance that because there are not going to be fans in ballparks, which means significantly less revenue, the agreement should be changed.

According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, players are not happy with this proposal and will likely hash out a counteroffer over the coming days and weeks.

“The players are going out there every day and risking their health while playing,” Passan points out. “The owners are probably not going to be at ballparks or out on the road with the teams and that risk that players are taking has to have some value to it and the players feel like that value can be paid back via salary.”

The MLBPA executive director Tony Clark expressed the union is not interested in negotiating further salary reductions, as the MLB already agreed to prorate salaries back in March. What the MLB is trying to do is give the MLBPA half of the revenue and then the players would decide how to distribute the money between themselves. This is essentially a salary cap, which is not a thing in baseball, and is something that players hold near and dear.

To put it in perspective, the last time owners tried implementing a salary cap in baseball, back in 1994, the players went on strike, which resulted in the postseason and World Series being canceled. That begs the question: Could this happen again? Would players actually refuse to play? That remains to be seen, but again, they are the ones who would have to risk their health to play during a pandemic.


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