April 8, 2020

QUARANTINED

The "leak" that MLB was kicking around the idea of playing all the 2020 season in a quarantined bubble in Arizona had many people wondering if it is even possible.

The idea is to have all 30 teams live and play in Arizona. No long distant travel. Half of the leagues have spring training facilities in Arizona.

All the teams would be quarantined in their hotels. There would be no fans at any games. The players would be shuttled to parks and hotels.

It is like the players would be inmates in professional baseball jail.

If the idea takes root, a late May early June start was mentioned in reports. That would mean baseball could be the first professional sport to return to action. It would also mean that players would be isolated from the public and their families for 4 months or more.

The reason is simple: medical experts believe there will be no vaccine for COVID-19 for at least a year. Then whether it is effective treatment is uncertain as the virus will continue to mutate.

The players want to play. The players do not get paid if they do not play. The players want to get paid.

The owners want to play games. The owners do not get any revenue without games. The owners want to get paid.

Even if this is a feasible solution, the human cost could be great. For example, will a veteran baseball player who has already made his multi-millions want to stay away from his family during a pandemic? Maybe not.

What happens when the first isolated player comes down with the virus? Is the whole team shut down? What about the hotel workers and team staff? Are they also isolated? The problem with any quarantine is that there will always be some outside contact. Vendors have to supply the hotel. Teams come and go on buses. The locker room is being used by three teams a day. Players will not be in hazmat suits 24/7.

What happens when a player gets injured? Are teams going to start the isolation with their full 40 man rosters? So teams will be paying players not on the active 26 man rosters?  If a player gets injured, he will have to leave confinement to get treatment. He may not be allowed back into the quarantine area because he could have possibly exposed in the outside world. Does the 15 day disabled list turn into a 30 day (15 off and 15 in self-isolation)?

Owners project that 30 percent of their revenue is from fan attendance. If there are no fans, will the players take a 30 percent pay cut? The players are upset with service time issues. A pay cut on top of that would be hard to take.

Arizona summers are hot. Surface of the sun hot. If you have 30 teams trying to play 15 games a day, where will they play? There is only one domed stadium in Phoenix. Night games at spring training facilities? West coast time night games may not cut it for East Coast television broadcasts.

Will MLB force feed new rule changes under the guise of unique circumstances? For example, the runner at second to start the 10th inning. Or not having any extra inning games (allowing ties). Or having a 10 run slaughter rule after 5 innings.

MLB is thinking of ways to salvage its season.  But as the days and weeks drag on in shuttered businesses, work at home environments and daily death tolls reported on newscasts, people may slowly lose interest in rebooting any professional sports season.

April 2, 2020

MORE BAD IDEAS

Baseball players have a lot of free time on their hands.

Too much free time.  Dodgers Justin Turner told his network about his idea on how to get more excitement into extra inning games.

Turner says everyone in the game, from players to owners, are on board with playing as many games as possible whenever the season can resume, and notes nothing is off limits in achieving that goal. He said there have been conversations about multiple doubleheaders, roster expansion, and new extra innings rules.

Turner offered his own idea for how extra inning games should be settled.

“This is my opportunity to push for a Home Run Derby extra inning,” he said.

 “Instead of playing 17 innings, you get one extra inning, you play the 10th inning, and no one scores, and you go to a Home Run Derby. You take each team’s three best hitters and you give them all five outs and see who hits the most homers.”

Turner thinks the idea would keep fans in the stands until the end of the games. Obviously, it would prevent games from dragging on, extending bullpens, and tiring players who will be working on short rest throughout the season. He compared the idea to the shoot-out at the end of overtime in hockey games.

IT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA based on questionable logic.

Fans don't leave during extra inning contests. It is sudden death. The home team has the last chance.

Extra innings are played under the same rules. Games should be played under the same rules to preserve the integrity of the sport.

A hockey comparison is not fair. In hockey, teams play an overtime under the same regular period rules (except with two less skaters). The shoot-out was created so some team could "win." However, there is nothing wrong with a "tie."  Hockey used to have lots of tie games. But someone thought that fans would like top see "winners."  But in shoot-outs, it may be more luck than skill that gives a rival an extra point in the standings.

A home run derby finale has nothing to do with who was the better team on that given day. Some believe a home run derby can screw up a hitter's mechanics.  Why risk putting terrible habits on your best three hitters in order to win one shortened game?

Turner should go back to grooming his beard instead of thinking about rule changes.

March 28, 2020

EU TU, SEASON?

As most of the world is in lock down, MLB, the union, players, agents and media pundits are kicking the can (the 2020 season) down the road.

The owners want the most games for the revenue.
The players want the most games for service time toward free agency.
The fans want the most games for enjoyment.

But how many games will constitute a valid season?

If the shutdown continues through May, is four months of games enough to have a legitimate champion? An 108 game schedule (2/3 season) seems reasonable.

But it gets tricky after that point.

How many is too little?

You have 30 teams, 15 per division. In a shortened season, would it not be prudent to keep the games within your league?

If so, each club has 14 opponents. You would think each owner would want at least one "home and home" series. Three games two times 14 equals 84 games. Is this the bare minimum?

What if it a shortened two game series per club? 56 games played seems awfully light.

Some would say 81 games, half of a regular season, is the cut off point. There is some speculation that a drawn out wave of coronavirus spread across the US could shut down travel and gatherings throughout the summer.

Some have proposed that you can fatten the number of games played by increasing doubleheaders. But even with expanded rosters, multiple double headers during a week will grind pitching staffs down to the bone. Is it worth the risk for the long term viability of the game?

These are important questions for baseball, but for also other industries trying to cope with the uncertainty of this situation. As we now know, baseball is not an essential service. 


March 25, 2020

IS IT BETTER?

Is it better to love than to never love at all?

It seems that proverb is part of the ongoing discussions between MLB, the players union, players, agents and fans.

Agent Scott Boras wants a 162 game schedule no matter when the season starts. He thinks a Christmas Day World Series game would be fine. A cynic must assume that he wants a full season to earn full commissions from his players.

The national pandemic shut down has postponed the season start to probably May. It will take several weeks for teams to re-start spring training so pitchers have time to stretch out. Memorial Day may be the new opening day.

But for fans, it still is tradition. They want their team games played at home, not at a southern neutral site (especially for playoffs). Owners are in it for the revenue so appeasing the hard core fan base is a mutual obligation in the final schedule.

I think most people will be alright with an 81 game shortened season. The players are barking about getting a full year service time (so they can get to free agency quicker). It is doubtful that the players will get their full salary for a half season. A short season does put more teams into play for the post-season.

MLB has been pushing the boundaries of the season before this crisis. 2020 was supposed to begin in March. The playoffs are getting pushed into November. It is all television revenue driven decisions.

But there is still a small probability that the season could be cancelled (like the Toyko Olympics). The adjustment of the travel schedule, the possibility of bankruptcies to hotels, airlines etc. may make the logistics of even a short season a nightmare.

But the biggest hurdle may be overall fan interest. With no current pro sports, fans are re-wiring their entertainment habits. They are finding new things to do while isolated at home. The great unknown is how many of these baseball fans will drop their consumption of baseball. Many people can easily get over a lost love, but will people who love baseball let it go, too?

March 17, 2020

BAD IDEAS

A writer at NBC sports has decided that whenever baseball returns in 2020, it should hold a March Madness bracket tournament instead of a shortened season.

This is what happens when sports talkers and writers have no sports to talk or write about.

His idea is a seeded tournament with the two pennant winners having a first round bye. Each round would be a 9 game series.  Teams would move their way along to a World Series tandem.

The problem with this idea: it is crazy bad.

Owners will not want half their teams total 2020 revenue end with 9 games (or 4 home games at most). The players cannot pad their stats for the next contract if games played is only 9 in 2020.

Fans would not be happy with a "one and done" series.

The local television revenue would be zero since local broadcasters would be screwed over.

The owners will demand that no matter how many available dates, they will play 100, 75 or even 50 to crown pennant winners.

The lack of spring training is going to take a real bad toll on pitchers.  The new (and stupid) three batter pitcher rule is going to cause more injuries, even in a short season. Bullpen arms are not based on full innings' workload. One relief pitcher throws an inning, he is usually not available for a couple of days.

2020 is going to have many issues but fundamentally changing the schedule is nonsense.

February 17, 2020

THE GENIE IS OUT OF THE BOTTLE

It was only a matter of time when the Truth would leak out about the Cubs disappointing post-championship seasons. Javy Baez recently ran out into the media highway to drop a few bombs on himself and his teammates.

The Associated Press reported that Baez said  the Cubs were lacking last year when it came to their pregame routines and work ethic. “We had a lot of optional things, not mandatory, and everyone kind of sat back on that — including me. I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good,” Baez said. “But this year, I think before the games, everybody should be out there as a team, stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said last week he could think of only two times in 18 years of running major league clubs that he felt “basic organizational standards for work, preparation and behavior” were not being met. (One can easily say that was a shot at Joe Maddon's management style, being a "player's manager.")

New skipper David Ross said at the end of the day, from a manager's standpoint, coaches try to get players prepared and put them in the best possible situation to succeed, but baseball has “always been about the players.”

“So for (Báez) to say that, and saying the group feels they can turn it up a notch, I mean, that’s a powerful message they are sending,” Ross said. “This is never about the manager. It never should be about the manager. When you're in that locker room, the players are the ones affecting the outcome.”
(Ross is defending Maddon because he is right: players have to take the responsibility themselves to prepare for games.)

If the lack of preparation was a problem, then the front office is also to blame. The baseball executives have spent millions on new analytical labs, new coaches and trainers to tell players how to hit and pitch. Theo hired and fired three batting coaches in three years. We suspect that after a while, the players just tuned out everyone.

Dusty Baker, also a players' manager, often said that he left his players alone in their game preparation. He often cited that the players are "professionals" and professionals know how to act. He was relying on his own experience as a player (in a vastly different time.)

Ozzie Guillen was a vocal leader. But he continually stressed the fundamentals and principles of the game. Before the first game of every series, he scheduled mandatory fielding drills for all his players.

Theo wanted performance over potential in 2019. He did not get it because his players did not get the message. The reason is simple. The lack of any farm system talent and budget constraints means that there is no new players pushing the existing core to play their best. There is no real competition for starting position roster spots. There is a lack of urgency and drive if you know that there is no one on the team ready, willing and able to take your job.

The Cubs organization is in a total mess. Ross brings back the championship cred, but it may not translate to a strict manager berating his friends and former teammates to tow the line.  How will he change a culture that has had the players merely going through the motions? It is not that Ross can sit players for not trying hard because he has to win now.

February 13, 2020

JUST STOP

MLB executives have too much time on their collective hands.

While the fan base shrinks, MLB is trying to "juice" up the product with a reality show concept for the playoffs.

First, reality shows suck. Second, if your business model is based off of CHEATERS then just film the Astros 24/7. Third, MLB continues to offend their loyal followers with stupid ideas. Just stop.

The idea of adding four more wild cards to the playoffs is NOT for the benefit of the fans. No, it is merely a new source of revenue to the owners.  It does not enhance the fan experience if you expect playoff fans to sit through snow delays in mid-November.

The dilution of the sacred 162 game schedule is at stake. The record book is hollow ground. The best baseball teams are the ones who grind out the most victories. They should be rewarded for their efforts. They should not have to sit around for a week while additional .500 wild card teams play a best of whatever game series.

The stupid idea that higher wild card seeds can "pick" their opponent in a televised circus should be DOA. Who is going to watch that half-hour train wreck when every GM will pick the opponent with the worst record. Why have fan wrath or job insecurity if you "pick" the best opponent.

Also, in the current division system, three division champs automatically make the playoffs. That means teams with "better" records could miss out of the playoffs. Fans want to see the "best" teams in the playoffs. Either realignment or a smaller playoff system would be a better answer to the current proposal.

Divisions may be used only for scheduling purposes. The top four winning records in each league will be seeded for a best of 7 series opener to a best of 7 series pennant championship. The sudden death wild card round still puts less emphasis on "team" accomplishment for the entire season. Would you rather see two 100 win teams duke it out for 7 games instead of a couple of dogs trying to best 2 wins out of three series?

One major criticism is that the season is too long. Well, it can be shortened by mandating that every Sunday contest be a family doubleheader. Not one of those "split" contests, but an old fashion day at the park. Owners hate the idea of losing a full "gate" but with the outrageous concession prices they can easily make up the difference. But the other problem is that teams have out priced their target market: young families and children. It is too expensive to go to a game. That should be addressed before ownership tries to force feed another round of unneeded playoffs.

January 3, 2020

THE FALL OUT

The house of cards that is our Chicago Cubs seems to falling down after another disappointing end to a season. The 2016 championship seems to be a distant memory. The idea of dynasty seems to be fantasy.

But nothing compared to the Ricketts family's fantasy that the Cubs were a money making ATM machine.

With Maddon's release, the Cubs have moved on to David Ross. But many other things have moved on from the Cubs.

Maddon's Post, a restaurant in the new Ricketts outside-the-park commercial development, abruptly closed after seven months. This is the third restaurant/bar in Ricketts' properties to have closed in the past year. The problem must be that the Ricketts overdeveloped the area, put in high lease rentals, and the businesses could not be profitable.

Also moving on is local over-the-air Cubs games. WGN will no longer broadcast any Chicago sports teams (it began in 1924). The Cubs Marquee Network launches in approximately 50 days. But it has no on-air talent, it has de minis cable contracts in the metro area, and no programming announcements to fill 24 hours/day. Kasper and Deshaies contracts expired at the end of the 2019 season. Hughes and Comer radio contracts may expire at the end of 2020.

The news broke as the season ended that the Ricketts family overspent on the Wrigley renovations by $600 million. That was not unexpected considering they decided to phase the work over three years instead of one intense project. The fact that the Ricketts overspent for the team (by an estimated $500 million) and doubled the cost on Wrigley, the Cubs operations are not generating enough revenue to off-set those financial hurdles.

The fall out from these financial stumbles is clear in that Theo has been handcuffed in spending. He can barely sign dual contracts for minor league reclamation projects. The Cubs are already over the luxury tax threshold by $10-18 million. It means the team must shed current star players in order to get into the business side's budget figures. The rest of the league knows the Cubs want to shed payroll so the trade market will not be as generous as Theo would want it to be to fill the depth and holes in the current roster.

There are problems with the rotation, the bullpen, lead off hitter, and center field that have no solutions in the minor leagues. Free agency and money was to fix roster problems during this "championship window" but Theo overspent to get the 2016 championship and now dead money deals have painted the team into a corner.

It appears the team revenue and finances will not allow the Cubs to be free spenders to acquire talent. They will have to operate as a small market team with the debt burden of a major franchise. If the Cubs' opening roster is the same as 2019, how are fans supposed to react? Three years of underperforming is not a oddity but a trend.

The Cubs were more popular when they were the Lovable Losers. Once the championship happened, die hard fans got their once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Now, many do not want to spend premium ticket and concession prices for a bad team.