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designated hitter

Here’s the MLB season-starter proposal

Make of it what you will.

Major League Baseball owners gave the go-ahead Monday to making a proposal to the players’ union that could lead to the coronavirus-delayed season starting around the Fourth of July weekend in ballparks without fans, a plan that envisioned expanding the designated hitter to the National League for 2020.

Spring training would start in early to mid-June, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the plan were not announced.

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Teams will propose that players receive the percentage of their 2020 salaries based on a 50-50 split of revenues MLB receives during the regular-season and postseason, which likely will be among the most contentious aspects of the proposal during negotiations with the players’ association.

That proposal would take into account fans being able to return to ballparks at some point, perhaps with a small percentage of seats sold at first and then gradually increasing.

Rosters would be expanded from 26 to around 30. With minor leagues shuttered, there likely will be the addition of about 20 players per club akin to the NFL’s practice squad.

MLB officials are slated to make a presentation to the union on Tuesday.

Players and teams agreed to a deal on March 26 that called for each player to receive only a portion of salary, determined by what percentage of a 162-game schedule is played. As part of that deal, if no season is played each player would receive 2020 service time matching what the player earned in 2019.

But that deal is contingent there being no restrictions on mass gatherings at the federal, state, city and local level; no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada; and Commissioner Rob Manfred after consulting the union and medical expects, determines there is no risk to playing in front of fans at regular-season ballparks.

Players and teams committed to “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate neutral sites.” Manfred has said about 40% of MLB revenue is tied to gate, including concessions, parking, ballpark advertising, luxury suites and programs.

Union officials and players have cited the March 26 agreement as setting economic terms and say they have no inclination for additional cuts.

See here for the background and some more details about the initial proposal. I’m going to hand this off to Fangraphs for some deeper analysis.

In a half-season scenario, if teams lost nearly all of their stadium revenue, and every other revenue and expense stream (including player payroll) were cut in half, there’s an argument that the owners might lose about $50 million per team this season. While that’s still about $2 billion shy of the profits they’ve made over the previous three seasons ($4 billion including BAMTech money), it’s a significant loss. Of course, the vast majority of those non-stadium revenues will not be cut in half. MLB is still in a very good position with its television partners, and even getting 75% of non-stadium revenue would allow the league to break even without renegotiating the deal it previously agreed to with the players. And that’s before we even get to teams taking lower annual local rights fees in exchange for ownership stakes in regional sports networks, which might send another half-billion dollars or more to teams annually. Those profits aren’t included in the revenue sharing among teams, and similar issues will make revenue sharing with players incredibly difficult to determine.

And even if we were to assume that by playing half a season without fans MLB is going to operate at a loss paying the players half their salaries, and then further decide that players should share a greater part of the burden of potential losses in the form of revenue sharing despite not having received any of the benefits of increasing profitability the last three years, what constitutes revenue in this scenario? Calculating revenues in a normal year is hard; calculating them this year will be near-impossible. We can talk about the under-market local TV deals of the Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, and Cubs, which siphon off baseball revenue in the form of network ownership, as a potential sticking point but even more difficult is determining revenue on national and local television deals and sponsorships.

If a team or the league agrees to take a discounted amount for a television deal or local sponsorship in order to make more money in future years, would such a deal require player approval? After all, the team or the league would be actively negotiating away money that might go to the players this year, but wouldn’t in future seasons when revenue sharing wasn’t in effect. The league and teams have longstanding relationships with their television partners and sponsors and they want to keep each other happy and provide each other with the biggest possible return on those relationships. The players are uniquely disadvantaged when trying to determine revenue due to these relationships and the potential for moving money around to the advantage of the parties already engaged in the deal. Involving the players will only lead to more acrimony and bigger headaches down the line.

So I dunno. I would dearly love to see baseball start again, if it is sufficiently safe, but I have no desire to see the players sacrifice their salaries for the owners’ benefit. I’m sure there’s room to make this work better, if the sides are willing to talk. We’ll see how the players react. ESPN has more.

Are we finally headed towards a universal DH?

Maybe.

Those in favor of the designated hitter becoming universal in Major League Baseball were given new reason for hope on Saturday.

Speaking at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warmup event on Saturday, general manager John Mozeliak says there’s increased momentum building among general managers and owners to bring the DH to the National League. According to Derrck Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak further noted the topic of the DH in the NL used to be a “non-starter” with officials, but now it’s become more of a topic, which perhaps indicates actual movement within those ranks.

Mozeliak, of course, is privy to such conversations, so this isn’t just hearsay. It’s likely he has an increased interest in this topic now considering what happened to his ace, Adam Wainwright, last season.

During a game at Miller Park in Milwaukee in April, Wainwright suffered a torn Achilles after taking an awkward step out of the batter’s box. Obviously, there’s an injury risk that comes with every pitch and every play, especially for pitchers, but for such an injury to happen while a pitcher is batting makes it a little more difficult to swallow. That’s especially true when the other league isn’t exposed to such risks on a regular basis because of the DH.

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If the universal DH is truly gaining momentum, then it’s something [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred will have to take on head-on at some point during his tenure. At this point though, it seems like we’re still a good distance away from it gaining enough momentum to motivate change. If there’s a silver lining for DH backers though, it’s that it’s also difficult to see the tide ever shifting back in the other direction, meaning the universal DH is an inevitability at some point in baseball’s future.

As the story notes, Manfred has previously said that he wasn’t considering expanding the DH to both leagues, but if the owners want it – and the MLB Players Association will likely be on board as well, given that DH jobs pay better than bench or bullpen jobs – it’s going to happen eventually, maybe even in the next round of labor talks. With the virtual elimination of league presidents and the full-time interleague schedule, the “differences between the leagues” argument is getting thinner. Obviously, this is a religious issue for a lot of people, and as such I don’t expect it to go quietly, nor with too much haste. But it does appear that we are headed that way, however trudgingly. Craig Calcaterra and FanGraphs have more.

Astros to the AL update

I remain puzzled by this.

Major League Baseball is discussing with prospective Astros owner Jim Crane possible compensation for agreeing to move the team to the American League.

Three people familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday that MLB has broached the subject with Crane, who in May reached an agreement to purchase the team from Drayton McLane for $680 million. One industry insider said MLB representatives floated $50 million as a possible compensation package for Crane and his group of investors to move the team from the National League. It is not known if MLB has formally offered the $50 million, or if such compensation would come from a reduction in the sale price or by other means.

The discussions would suggest that MLB commissioner Bud Selig has moved past vetting the Crane group and will attempt to finalize the sale.

“Baseball seems very interested to cause this to happen,” an industry insider familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday.

That would constitute a significant shift from August, when MLB removed a scheduled vote to approve the sale from the owners’ meetings agenda. A person familiar with top MLB officials’ thinking said concerns about past business practices of Crane’s companies remain a point in contention in approving the deal.

Another industry insider contends MLB has been using past EEOC complaints and settlements involving war profiteering as “a bargaining chip” to leverage Crane into accepting a move to the AL as a pre-condition to taking over the team. Selig and the MLB Players Association have stated a desire for two 15-team leagues that will allow for the addition to two wild-card playoff teams. One of the 16 NL teams would have to change leagues for that to happen, and there have been no volunteers. With a pending sale, coming off the worst season in franchise history (56-106), the Astros would appear to be susceptible to persuasion to sever ties with the NL that go back to 1962.

Let’s put the question about the extra playoffs aside for the moment. It’s ironic that this is being discussed at the end of the season that featured the two most dramatic playoff races of the wild card era, but the shift in emphasis from the regular season to the postseason is a ship that sailed so long ago it’s on its third round trip by now. What I don’t understand is why 15 teams per league, which will necessarily mean interleague play year round, is considered desirable. If you want balanced divisions, I’d rather make like the NFL and expand to 32 teams with four four-team divisions per league and no wild card, or two eight-team divisions with the top two from each making the playoffs. Failing that, if interleague all the time is where we’re heading, then let’s drop the pretense of having separate leagues, essentially a fiction these days given that there are no more league presidents, and adopt saner schedules as folks like David Pinto have advocated. That would mean coming to a decision one way or the other on the DH – as a lifelong American League fan, I’m for it as I’m sure the MLBPA would be too – but that’s a debate I’m willing to have and to lose if it comes down to it. The current proposals are to me the worst of all possible worlds, which means I’d better start getting used to it. At least having the Astros in the AL would mean I’d get to see the Yankees every year. Even for me that’s not worth the ridiculousness of it all, but you take your silver linings where you can find them.