Opening day of the 2020 MLB season was scheduled for Thursday, March 28, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gathering in any capacity has been deemed too dangerous to the health of all.
There are a lot of question marks as to what to expect for the following months. Will there be a shortened season? Will there be an increase in doubleheaders? Will fans be able to attend games if the situation improves? The most important question being, will there even be a 2020 MLB season at all? There are an unusual amount of uncertainties in these trying times, concerning baseball, other sports seasons and the health of the entire world. However, critical to the future of organized sport, leagues are implementing strict protocol procedures to prioritize the health of their players and staff by delaying the season.
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced this past week that if there ultimately ends up being no 2020 season at all, players that are currently in the last year of their contracts will be eligible for free agency, indicating the league is preparing to call the whole season off. The consideration of contracts has clearly been of importance to the league as it plans its next steps. Players such as former Red Sox, current Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, would be able to cruise out the last year of his deal without ever suiting up for the Dodgers in a regular-season game. Betts isn’t alone in this case, and the lack of contingency for certain players beyond this season may hinder certain organizations whenever the league is able to resume full operations.
The MLB has also decided to drastically shorten the draft to only five rounds this year instead of the typical 40. This move not only worsens the chances for new careers in baseball, but also puts stress on the minor league teams to have strong scouting departments in hopes of acquiring prospects. There are a lot of graduating seniors in the college level of baseball who will not receive a final shot at making it to the pros or minors because of this decrease, but the league has to take precautions for the sake of everyone.
Players in their third year of eligibility also won’t be able to play out their most important season in terms of their draft stock. While they will have the opportunity to play one more year in college if not drafted, the leap from their second to third years can be the largest selling point for underrated or under scouted prospects. Additionally, third-year players are able to be drafted and can earn major contracts for having impeccable performances through their third season. Teams typically offer them more money to incentivize the player forfeiting their final year of college eligibility, whereas if you are drafted as a fourth-year player, it is essentially a “last chance” offer without the high incentive of an expensive contract.
The league is suffering from a nightmare scenario with Red Sox ace Chris Sale and Mets slinger Noah Syndergaard both looking to receive UCL surgery in the coming weeks. Sale is entering the first year of a five year, $150 million contract. This surgery is one of the most difficult procedures to return from and it is unlikely that we will see either Sale or Syndergaard until the second half of the 2021 season as they undertake the lengthy recovery process. These surgeries are likely to have lasting impacts, hindering both careers, which were on track to be Hall of Fame worthy.
It is a shame that the 2020 MLB season is facing this reality. This was going to be one of the more interesting, storyline-filled seasons we would have watched in a while. The combination of the Astros cheating their way to a World Series title, the commissioner doing an embarrassingly poor job of disciplining the team and the Astros’ players half-hearted, insincere apologies were causing players and fans around the country to steam like a tea kettle. It seemed as if 29 fan bases around the league had sort of rallied together with one common enemy and it would have been entertaining to watch that play out over the season.
If the NHL, NBA and MLB are able to resume in mid-late June, MLB viewership would have to compete with NBA and NHL playoff viewership for close to two months. As soon as playoff season is over, the MLB will face viewership competition again with the beginning of the NFL season. For now, let’s hope that sports will be back soon and return to a sense of normalcy.