There were no sports yesterday. There will be no sports today. There will be no sports tomorrow.
This has been the reality (at least in America) for two months. The last time professional sports games were played on American soil was Wednesday, March 11, and most amateur sports were halted not long after. This has made for some fundamental changes that will affect the sports landscape in major ways in the near future and have untold ripple effects beyond that. But games may return before the summer is over.
It’s becoming clear that baseball below the MLB level will likely be lost for 2020 (more below), but the possibility of Rockies games remains. League reps and owners will meet via conference call on Monday to discuss a plan for restarting games with the hopes that they could present a proposal to the players union on Tuesday. Rosenthal has details but if you’re truly behind the paywall, here is the jist:
The proposal includes an 80-ish game season starting in early July with games played in home ballparks without fans (at least until larger gatherings are approved). Teams would play a regional schedule with playoffs expanding from five to seven per league: best record getting a bye to the division series while the other two division winners and the best wild card team hosting a best-of-three series against the three teams with the next best records.
The upshot is that the Rockies could be playing games at 20th and Blake by midsummer and most of their games would be against NL West and AL West opponents. For the Rockies, that would mean lots of trips to California (Giants, Athletics, Dodgers, Angels, Padres), Washington (Mariners), and Texas (Rangers, Astros). It’ll be a slightly more onerous travel schedule than, say, NL/AL Central clubs, and include travel to some previous hot-spots like Seattle and the Bay Area. On the fun side, it would also mean a few Astros-Dodgers matchups that would surely get feisty, even with no fans in attendance. And expanded playoffs and a shortened schedule would mean more opportunities for the Rockies to fluke/rebound their way into the postseason.
But all of this is speculation. Obviously a lot about this plan could change between now and Tuesday, let alone between now and early July. We’ll have more in-depth coverage about how this will affect the Rockies once we get more hard-and-fast details. Until then, we can rest in hope that baseball may in fact be coming back soon.
Earlier this week MLB announced that the annual June amateur draft would be cut from the normal 40 rounds down to five. “After the fifth round, teams can sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for a maximum bonus of $20,000,” according to reporting from Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich. Few teams end up signing all 40 of their draftees in a given year, but this still means instead of 30-35 players joining the Rockies system this June, it could be as few as five.
Keith Law has the long-term impact of this change. On one hand, this is good news for scouts and evaluators and the next two to three draft classes. Many high school players will likely either go the junior college and re-enter in one or two years, or take join a four-year college program and enter after their junior year. Juco players and college juniors will also likely take one more year in school. This also means that the level of competition at these levels will rise. The downside: playing time will now come at a premium, especially at some of the top programs in the country.
The downside is that a lot of players will not enter affiliated baseball. College seniors or younger players from disadvantaged communities that would have gone in the first ten-ish rounds might be outta luck. And while I am the type of person who’s Pro Moonlight Graham (we probably could use more doctors, CPAs, entrepreneurs, mechanics, and others who invest deeply in their communities more than we could use more baseball players), that still means the end of the dream for some players (and the potential that true greats like eighth rounders Paul Goldschmidt and Jacob deGrom never enter the game).
There’s a certain level of necessity to these measures. The last available data on many of these draft prospects is last season or perhaps some winter showcases, which is significant when you consider the development that can happen over the course of a year for 17 to 22 year old kids. So the margin of error on a draft pick, already pretty high, just shot up. Not only that, but it looks increasingly likely that even if MLB does play games this summer, there might not be any organized games below that level, so draftees probably won’t have any place to play until March 2021.
There’s also the looming spectre of a season with severely diminished or close to zero revenue for MLB teams, which would mean many full- or part-time employees could find themselves out of work. It’s easy to think that MLB team owners are waiting out the coronavirus crisis on one of their seven yachts, but not all ownership groups are equal (as a favorite example, compare the Rays to the Yankees) and the business-side of baseball means teams have budgets and they need income to meet their line-items, like salaries.
Still, despite the pros and cons, the owners will benefit because the outlay for acquiring amateur talent will be much lower in 2020 than in 2019 or 2021. While some teams will surely need to pass at least some of those savings onto their regular employees in the short term, they will still reap the long-term benefits of acquiring players for less than normal while creating playing time and draft logjams in the coming years for amateur players.