Uncertainty is Case in MLB

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues to publicly declare there will be a 2020 baseball season in some form and shape. He repeated that assertion last week, while news of a possible new plan to get some sort of year done was unveiled. If the proposed plan is implemented it would result in an even more radical change for the sport than going to divisional play and implementing a wild card system. This proposal, which would only be for the 2020 season, would eliminate the traditional National and American Leagues.

According to a USA Today report, this plan would instead group all the teams into six divisions. All 30 teams would return to spring training sites in Florida and Arizona. All games would be played in those two states without fans in the stands. Divisions would be realigned according to geography. Things still being worked out would include the number of games in the season, how many teams would qualify for the playoffs, and how many rounds would be held to determine the two final teams in the World Series.

There was no comment from anyone in the MLB office to this story, but the fact this plan is even under consideration is an indication of just how badly the owners and players want some semblance of a season to occur. The union has already agreed to waive restrictions limiting consecutive games being played, the number of doubleheaders, roster sizes, and even salary reductions, which are scheduled to begin on May 1. They’re also willing to extend the season into November, something that wouldn’t matter if all games are in two warm weather states.

The sport’s PR wing is desperately hoping stories like this can take the heat off baseball, which has been getting blistered for the fallout from the Astros’ cheating scandal. Just as they were hoping for some relief, another element surfaced last week with the announcement of lesser penalties for the 2018 Boston Red Sox. MLB termed their sign-stealing offenses “far more limited in scope and impact” than the Astros.

The penalties included sanctions against the Red Sox’s J. T. Watkins for abuses of video replay equipment.  He was banned from serving as a video replay monitor in 2021, and the Red Sox lost a 2020 second-round draft pick. 

In his report released last Wednesday, Commissioner Manfred also suspended Alex Cora through the 2020 postseason, but only for his actions as Astros bench coach and not Red Sox manager. The Red Sox fired Cora in January. Manfred also ruled that Red Sox management – most notably current GM Brian O’Halloran – consistently communicated to on-field staff Manfred’s directives against using electronics for stealing signs.

“No other member of the 2018 Red Sox staff will be disciplined,” Manfred wrote, “because I do not find that anyone was aware of or should have been aware of Watkins’s conduct. The Club’s front office took more than reasonable steps to ensure that its employees, including Watkins, adhered to the rules. Notwithstanding these good faith efforts to comply with the rules, however, the Red Sox organization ultimately is responsible for the conduct of a member of its advance scouting staff.”

With this report, MLB hopes that they can finally get the cheating scandals out of the news cycle, and focus more attention on positive baseball developments. Unfortunately, with the reduction in rounds of the upcoming MLB draft and the forthcoming contraction decision that will eliminate several minor league clubs, the sport is still looking at more turmoil in the coming months, even if there ultimately is a 2020 season.

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