If you’re reading this, I shouldn’t need to explain the title. The events of the last 48 hours have caught everyone by surprise, including myself, and I’ve been following the news of this virus closely, for the past several months, long before it ever threatened to cancel sporting seasons and disrupt daily American life.
The stock market is tanking like it’s 1929. The NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, etc. have all suspended events for thirty days, and possibly, if not probably, more. The Ivy League has cancelled all spring sports, and most colleges are sending their classes online, and their students home. Governors, mayors, and private organizations across the country are getting out ahead of the federal government’s slow response by taking matters into their own hands.
This post will be about baseball –– mostly. But, if you’re reading this, and you don’t think this virus is serious, I am thoughtfully asking you to read up and reconsider. This virus is not being overhyped, nor is it a media creation, or a biological weapon, and anyone telling you anything of that sort is being beyond irresponsible; and those with power and media capabilities doing so are going to get people killed. This is a global pandemic, and a seriously contagious disease we are only beginning to understand. Vaccines and proper treatment could be months, if not more, away from being developed. As more people get sick, and more start staying home, our economy will feel the effects –– this is only the beginning. This week, and the past few, will likely pale in comparison to the next few weeks and months.
Prepare yourselves. Stay informed (cdc.gov or coronavirus.jhu.edu), stay inside if you can, and please, regardless of your risk level, remember we all have a responsibility to protect those most vulnerable around us. Those of an advanced age and with weakened immune systems are under great threat. We can get through this, together, but in the absence of direction from the top, it will take individual action, and individual courage. Your communities will likely be affected. Your families may be, as well. This is not to advocate for alarmism and panic, but the time for wait-and-see has come and gone. We must take action, and it must be immediate. Precautions that may seem extensive and unnecessary now will not seem so in the near future. We must listen to the scientists and experts, and learn from mistakes of other countries, before we cannot.
Back to sports. Just as I’m writing this, the NCAA has cancelled all winter and spring championships. This includes March Madness, as well as the College World Series. The Big Ten has already cancelled the remainder of their college baseball season, and while not all major conferences have gone that far yet, it may not be long. The effects this will on the game of baseball are both vast and unknown. The season and spring training has already been suspended, with rumors reporting an extremely aspirational May 1st Opening Day target date, which I suspect will be pushed back. Will MLB try to shorten the season? Will they extend it into the fall or winter, playing postseason games at warm or indoor neutral sites? Will the All-Star game and week be eliminated? Will the World Series be played around Thanksgiving or Christmas? It’s unclear at this point.
What about player service time? In a shortened season, how will service time be accrued? The service time situation in baseball is already complicated enough. Whenever play is resumed, there must be a defined plan to ensure players are earning their rightful path to free agency.
How about the draft? With college baseball seemingly done for the year, and many high schools beginning to do so as well, this draft could be unlike any other in baseball history, if the draft even still occurs in June. It’s going to be exceedingly tougher for players to evaluate high school players, with much of their senior seasons wiped out. College players will have a longer track record to work with, but the opportunities for pop up players to jump up in the draft may not be there like it usually is.
Think about it this way, if you’re a draft follower: does Keoni Cavaco get taken 13th overall last year if there were no baseball played after March 12th? I’d say it’d be unlikely, but the answer is simply no, he wouldn’t be. Other players just won’t get the chance to vault up draft boards like he did last spring, if the draft even still occurs in June.
With scouts having restricted access to games, and many teams not even playing at all, it’s possible analytics play an even greater role in this year’s draft than they have in prior ones, with teams relying more on their draft models than ever. That said, those models will be without an almost season’s worth of data to use in evaluating players, so who knows. If the current state continues until the draft, I’m sure there will be some inefficiency for teams to exploit, but what that might be, I have no idea, at least for right now.
And on some of those college players, for those who will not be drafted: will they get an extra year of eligibility? I am hopeful the NCAA will work out a solution that allows teams to take on new players next year while allowing current seniors another year to play. It appears there are already discussions in the college game about getting something done, and I’d love to see a resolution on that soon, as it would certainly uplift the spirits of downtrodden players who’ve lost nearly their entire seasons.
EDIT: Players for spring sports, which means baseball, will now receive an extra year of eligibility. So, this may effectively make all juniors sophomores, and all seniors juniors, for the purposes of this coming draft. If this is the case, all players could gain added leverage. This decreases the leverage disparity between high school and college players, which could have unknown effects on the draft. “Senior signs,” or seniors who are taken and signed for a very small signing bonus due to their lack of leverage, may not be a thing. Age will still be a factor, and plenty of players will seek to exercise the option to jump to the pros. But, we could see many more college juniors returning to school than we ever have, and this upcoming draft will be like none we’ve ever seen. It will be interesting to follow the developments over the next several months, and we may perhaps get some insight into what teams are thinking.
How will pitchers cope with the layoff? Teams are likely weighing this in particular right now, and trying to gather more information, so as not ramp up their pitchers too early or too late. The delayed season could be a benefit to pitchers dealing with injury, or those expected to be on innings limits, such as Dustin May. Will the rosters be expanded beyond 26 players early in the season, to alleviate the stress of pitchers having to deal with an uneven and unprecedented schedule? It’s certainly possible.
We must not forget about the hardships that will stem from this, however. Players don’t get paid in spring training. For many major leaguers, this matters little, as they can afford a month or two without pay. But for those on the roster fringes and in the minor leagues, an extended period without pay could have drastic effects. These players have dedicated their lives to this game and their teams. The least the teams could do is support them financially, if they need it, during these trying times. They can certainly afford it.
The same goes for seasonal and hourly staff at major league facilities, who will be without a primary source of income while the games go unplayed. I really hope we’ll see more owners follow in the path of the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban, who said he’d be putting a program together for the seasonal employees affected.
There’s a reason that much of this post is written in the form of a question. There are just so many uncertainties regarding the virus, and what lies ahead, that we really don’t know what’s going to happen. Sports are so often a refuge from the real world, and the hardships that encompass it. Most Americans can’t fathom a few weeks at home, but a few weeks without live sports? Or a few months? There is no parallel in modern American history.
I do know one thing for sure: it’s gonna be weird as hell when April comes and there’s no baseball.
Stay strong, engage in social distancing, WASH YOUR HANDS, and remember we’re all in this together.
P.S. If you are going to be confined indoors and are looking for book recommendations (on baseball, or just in general), my DMs are open, feel free to slide in.
And some general binging recommendations:
Hunters (Amazon Prime): My current binge; a fantastic concept, and Al Pacino is phenomenal.
The People vs OJ Simpson (Netflix): Possible you’ve already seen it, but it won a ton of awards for a reason. Compelling and extremely well done.
The Good Place (Netflix): One of the best shows on network TV just finished its fourth and final season, but the first three are on Netflix. A comedy for everyone.
Neil Brennan: Three Mics (Netflix): One of the best standup comedy specials of the past several years. Funny, deep, and heartwarming.
American Vandal (Netflix): Not for everyone; if you’re under 35, you’re much more likely to find it hilarious.
The Devil Next Door & Don’t F**k With Cats (Netflix for both): If you’re into true crime, these two are right up your alley.
Love is Blind (Netflix): So terrible it’s actually kind of interesting.