With the NBA and NHL both on track to return this summer, MLB’s seat is getting warmer by the day as players and owners continue to dig in their heels in negotiating a potential 2020 season. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, owners are pushing for a 48-game slate—paying players for fewer games would alleviate some of the league’s revenue losses, particularly if fans aren’t permitted at stadiums—while the players would prefer a longer season (the MLBPA recently submitted a 114-game proposal) at their prorated 2020 salaries. A middle ground in the 80-82-game range seems feasible, though neither side has been willing to budge.
The league is running out of time to save its season and pessimism is growing. Appearing as Buster Olney’s guest on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast, Tim Kurkjian expressed his doubts about the 2020 season and what that could mean for the league’s future. “I’m not sure, but I don’t think we’re going to play this year, and boy do I hope I’m wrong,” said Kurkjian, alluding to the frustrating lack of progress in labor negotiations. “It’s going to be really, really hard for some of these smaller market teams, who are going to lose more fans, to bring them back if we cancel an entire season.”
Along with further crippling small-market clubs that were barely getting by before the pandemic, Kurkjian believes a canceled season could lead to even more havoc in free agency. “The owners are going to say, ‘Well you guys didn’t want to play. Now we don’t have any money left, so we’re not going to pay free agents.’”
While certainly not ideal, Kurkjian would take a shortened season over none at all, even if it means playing only 40-50 games. “Anything is better than nothing,” said ESPN’s longtime baseball analyst. “Two other sports leagues appear to be on the way to restarting their seasons and football, I’m pretty sure, is going to start close to on time. Baseball just doesn’t look good in comparison to those other three sports.”
As Kurkjian notes, the optics of MLB splitting hairs over money amid a virus that has killed 100,000 Americans and counting, particularly when the NBA and NHL were able to get their seasons back up and running without much pushback, are obviously not good. The division between the league and its players also doesn’t bode well for MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, set to expire after the 2021 season. “It is a really bad confluence of events here and it has to be changed,” Kurkjian said of the league’s dire circumstances. “And it’s got to be changed now.”
The MLB season is in jeopardy, and if the two sides can’t come to a compromise soon, there might not be a happy ending.