It’s Make or Break for the MLB

Eight Marlins players have tested positive Monday morning since their matchup against the Phillies on Sunday. Counting previously known positives, the number of known cases in the Marlins’ clubhouse is currently at twelve.

This obviously doesn’t bode well for any team… The Marlins are dangerously close to losing their entire starting lineup to this virus.

Miami announced it was delaying its trip home ahead of the series against the Orioles which was supposed to start tonight but instead was postponed earlier this morning. MLB also announced it postponed tonight’s Yankees-Phillies match up at Citizens Bank Park where the Marlins had just been.

While we can lament about why the season was not played in a bubble location, we still would have needed to play through the spread of this virus through clubhouses. Other teams will inevitably have more asymptomatic carriers until this season ends.

Whether it ends prematurely or on time, the status of this unprecedented season depends on how we tackle this first hurdle.

If we can find a way to get through this week, we may find a way to complete the season if we develop reliable protocol. Whatever the future holds, it will look more like what we are experiencing now but in greater volume.

The next 24 hours will be the most critical part of this season to date – we could see changes to protocol, more players opting out, or things much worse…

A Pyrrhic Victory for Baseball Fans as MLB Agrees to Return to Play

The MLBPA and owners agreed upon a return to play plan, as a result of Manfred’s vested powers from the March 26th agreement. The long stalemate lasted a whole three months, but in the end, an agreement surrounding the current CBA could not be found. The waters have muddied between the owners and Players Union, and the current agreement is set to expire after the 2021 season.

Even though the ramifications from this failure to reform the current CBA will be far-reaching, this season’s implications can be especially significant due to this inaction.

If the trend continues with the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in current states, a 2020 season will not happen. Caution will always prevail, and an increase in confirmed cases seems inevitable.

Like we hold politicians accountable for every action or inaction, the owners and union should be held liable for the three months of inaction. The blame should rest on both sides for the inability to mediate on a regular-season, when the preseason should have been played in a bubble location during negotiations.

The return to play plans should have been made during the denouement of the first wave, and the first phase of returning to play should have coincided with the reopening phase. Thats means that now, the time frame to have a feasible season is long over. The window to play is expiring.

No matter the degree at which the coronavirus becomes a threat, it is inevitable that the virus will spread far and will find its way into clubhouses- because it is already in many.

The plans to play in 2020 were finalized far too late, and are going to be implemented when the virus is resurging on the heels of the reopening phase. Remaining cautiously optimistic, I am anticipating an exciting and pivotal season for the sport.

Biggest Winner from the COVID-19 Fallout: The KBO

I have always been a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, so talking about who lost the most from COVID-19 brought no joy. Trying to remain optimistic about the stoppage of society as a whole, we will judge who or what came out of this pandemic stronger.

The jawn that prospered the most due to this pandemic is undoubtedly the Korean Baseball Organization (or KBO).

South Korea has a surprisingly long history of baseball. It was originally brought to the country in the 19th century by American missionaries and found its roots during Japanese rule. Up until the start of WWII, Major League sporadically sent teams in an effort to barnstorm in the country when it was a part of Japan. Babe Ruth actually led a team of MLB All-Stars in Japan, where Korean nationals played for the Japanese team.

Baseball picked up even more traction after the Korean War when Western ideals clashed with Eastern ideals. After the fighting stopped, a culture grew from the ashes left behind and baseball spawned a community in yet another Asiatic country.

It wasn’t until the 1980s however, when the first professional baseball league was launched in South Korea. Six teams were a part of the inaugural league, but it has grown to the ten teams today. In its entire history, the KBO has never reached a global audience until the circumstances brought on by this pandemic.

To fill slots on-air, ESPN picked up the televised rights to the KBO in America. On Opening Day, the broadcast drew in an audience of 173,000, gaining immeasurable exposure to a starving fan base.

The talent level is good, but not great. Some starting pitchers can barely break 90mph on their fastball. The batters don’t have much pop either, as the league actually had to “de-juice” the baseballs in order to give up less home runs.

The league specializes in the video-bites in America through it’s infamous bat flips, and viral presentation of the game (even without fans).

Despite the fact that the KBO will be a distant memory in a few months, the sudden rise in popularity will allow the league to grow. The exposure domestically in Korea will promote the culture within, because legitimizing the sport (remotely) from the Western Hemisphere can bring in funding and further talent to the sport.

Both the league and country has the chance to rival those in other established baseball hotspots, like Japan, Cuba, and the rest of Latin America. As a result of this interest, Korea will soon contend with the rest for a premier avenue for MLB-ready talent.

Biggest Loser from the COVID-19 Fallout: Mookie Betts

He was supposed to be baseball’s next $400 million dollar man, and rightfully so. Mookie Betts was in pole position to have a monster offseason, where he would become the most sought-after unrestricted free agent.

The Red Sox had reportedly made several attempts to restructure the contract with Mookie. In 2016, he declined a five-year, $100 million deal. Following the 2017 season, Betts again turned down an offer of an eight-year, $200 million dollar contract. After his 2018 AL MVP season, Mookie was offered a ten-year deal, worth $300 million in the offseason. Mookie counter-offered with twelve years at $420 million. In an effort to recoup something in return for Betts, Boston dealt him away after the 2019 season. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after insisting on hitting the market in search of his desired price tag. 

Like every other business, the market for athletes is dependent on the total market revenue. With the stoppage of play, each team will be affected differently. According to the New York Times, the LA Dodgers are currently at $232 million in local losses, with teams like the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox close behind with $214 million, $199 million, and $188 million in losses, respectively. 

Even if there is an abbreviated season, teams will lose out on a significant amount of revenue. This will take away from their ability to pay out contracts after the season, and the market will see an overall dip.  The Athletic’s Peter Gammons suggested that Betts would be “lucky” to earn a deal worth $250 million in the current market.

While it was unforeseeable during prior negotiations, Betts must be kicking himself over what could have been. He might not command the $420 million dollar price tag he was in search of, but he has a lot to prove if baseball is to be played this year. 

Does Boston now have the ability to offer Betts a competitive contract offer, due to the expected market dip?