If you’re anything like me, and I can safely assume most if not all of you are since you’re reading a baseball article on a Cleveland sports website in the middle of quarantine, you have spent your days pining for the crack of the bat, the sound of fastballs hitting catcher’s mitts, and the unmitigated fury one can have when the best hitter on your team squares up to attempt to lay down a bunt. The KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) coming to ESPN and giving us professional baseball to watch is a nice diversion, but it still just doesn’t feel right to me when you grew up and got used to Albert Belle’s attacks on baseballs everywhere, Manny being Manny before he was Manny, Grady Sizemore crashes in centerfield where Kenny Lofton used to patrol, Frankie Lindor and Jose Ramirez blasting extra-base hits, Kluber slurves and Cookie’s cutters and Trevor Bauer’s antics childish or not and Shane Bieber’s seeming allergy to walking a batter. But we have some hope that 2020 is not a fully sunk and submerged season and the last gasps of a championship window can be propped open just that much more.
On Monday, MLB owners voted for a season-saving proposal that would have spring training 2.0 starting in June, regular-season games taking off in July, and a near-unprecedented1 50-50 revenue sharing split with the players.2 The proposal will be submitted to the players union today, Tuesday, and while insiders have said players have made it known there are issues with the proposal, it remains a glimmer of hope for MLB baseball returning sooner rather than later. Players struck a deal with management in March to collect a prorated share of their contracts this season, meaning they would make the same per game as they would have if it was a 162-game sched, but will make less over the full season, and thusly, it’s expected they will attempt to keep to that rather than split it 50-50. The players are also pushing for more explicit language on health issues and what could happen if a player/manager/coach/front office person tests positive for coronavirus, and the plans for keeping the disease at bay while allowing the players to not feel like they are held in captivity since many have families that would not be allowed nearby if they are to remain in isolation.
There are myriad changes not only financially and systematically that the owners are trying to push through but to the nature of the sport. Among those are follows: 2020 would be an 82 game season, the number of playoff teams would be bumped up from 10 to 14, a universal DH, long expected and needed, will be added for at least 2020 if not longer should the proposal be ratified, as well as the new 26-man game day roster expanding to 30, with a bump from 40 to 50-man rosters available since there will likely be no minor league season. The three-batter minimum for pitchers will stay in place, also allowing for those extra arms to be useful.
These roster moves and such are important, but where will they play you ask. The push from owners would be to have the teams play in their home ballparks since the hope is to have fans at a later date in the season, but if some states and local governments forbid such a plan, then the projected hubs will be the likely outcome. Those hubs are Arizona, Texas, and Florida, where spring training facilities and other sites such as home parks would allow for multiple games to be played. Along with the 82 game schedule, teams will only play teams within their divisions and the corresponding divisions in the other league. So for you Tribe fans, that means games only against the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, as well as local rivals Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. This wrinkle was drafted in to limit travel for teams, keeping them from making cross country treks to AL/NL West parks if games were to be played in home parks. If hubs were the plan, it stands to reason that the AL/NL West will be in Arizona, Centrals in Texas, and East teams playing their games in Florida.
So the real question you’re asking yourself is this, since you are reading this on a Cleveland site: what does this mean for Cleveland Indians fans? That expected schedule is both good and bad: playing games against inter-division teams is nice when you have expected bottom feeders like Kansas City and Detroit making up half your intra-division games and adding tanking Pittsburgh to the mix is the icing on the cake. However, the NL Central has many teams hoping to make the leap: Milwaukee has arguably the second-best hitter after Mike Trout in Christian Yelich, St. Louis is playoff capable, playing the Cubs will mean clip montages to 2016.3 Not to mention that the Twins and White Sox were projected to be frisky if not outright threats to the Indians, and the in-state series between the Reds was going to get harder after their offseason acquisitions. A bumped up roster (from 26 to 30 and 40 to 50) helps a team like Cleveland that was going to have competition in the outfield and for the fifth starter spot; now you can carry those extra bats and arms without worry. The time off from the quartine and shelter-in-place orders also helps All-Star and motion-sickness-inducing starting pitcher Mike Clevinger return to health after a meniscus tear threatened the beginning of his season. We also would ensure that we have not already seen the last of Lindor in an Indians jersey, though no promises have been made about whether or not he is dealt before the season is over. Will we even have a trade deadline??
It’s hard to say exactly what will happen in 2020, which is probably the most understated sentence I’ve written ever, but it looks promising that we will have baseball returning at some point. Will it be in Cleveland? Not sure. Will it end well for the Tribe? The expanded playoffs would give some hope that the most bonkers postseason of any sport will include the Indians, but that remains to be seen. I’m just excited about Tribe baseball on my TV, Tom Hamilton on my radio, and JRam hitting doubles off the wall.