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Yankees mailbag: The owners’ proposal, and what the playoffs look like in a shortened year

Here’s your answers to this week’s mailbag.

Major League Baseball London Announcement - Regent Street Cinema Photo by Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

Good morning everyone. We’ve reached the end of another week, which may or may not put us much closer to Opening Day. Here are the answers for this week’s mailbag. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

George Ackley asks: If the owners are asking the players to accept more of the financial risk, and the players are concerned about the added health risk, how about a compromise? The players accept the revenue sharing deal, and the owners/management accept the following: all owners and front office personnel show up to every game at the same time as the players. They are provided the same testing and PPE as the players. They remain in the dugout/on the field with the players. They go to the clubhouse after the game, with the players, and get to leave with the players. Both sides accept the risk the other side has. Would the owners sign up?

Not to be flippant, but there’s obviously virtually no chance anything like this would ever happen. Even in its roundabout way, the league’s return-to-play proposal is ostensibly about minimizing risk. MLB has recognized that playing baseball during a pandemic is a health risk, and has floated rule changes such as no spitting, no showers after games, and swapping out baseballs touched by multiple players in an effort to lower that risk. Bringing thousands of people into potential contact with others in an entirely unnecessary fashion only increases the risk to everyone involved.

All that said, this question does get at what I think is the heart of the divide between the players and the league right now. Seemingly every move the owners make attempts to shift risk away from them, to find a separate group willing to shoulder the risk, while holding on to/maximizing profits.

When it comes to league revenues, the owners have enjoyed record revenues and skyrocketing team valuations, a potent one-two combo that has nonetheless seen player payroll stagnate. The owners have reaped the profits, but now that a pandemic has struck, they have asked the players to own the risk, in the form of a revenue-sharing agreement that ties player salary to revenue in the case of games played without fans.

When it comes to the minor leagues and the draft, the league has imposed all the downside on scouting departments and, most importantly, minor-league players, amateur players, and minor league teams. MLB has used the pandemic to throttle the draft, reducing the 2020 version to five rounds, and possibly reducing the 2021 edition as well, to save each team a few hundred thousand dollars. It has also tried to push through a plan to disaffiliate dozens of minor league teams. The league will reap the benefits of these moves in the form of reduced costs, while the minor league teams that are left out in the cold, and the prospects who will go undrafted, will carry the burden.

There is no situation in which the owners wouldn’t try to dodge risk rather than take it on themselves. Baseball has proven a perfect vehicle for them, one in which they can watch team values soar and cut costs where they can, knowing that players typically fall on the sword of public opinion if and when they decide to act and potentially initiate a work stoppage. So no, of course the owners wouldn’t share in the risk the players are facing here, but not just because the idea is pretty crazy. It’s just not something the owners do.

Keith Jones asks: What will the playoff schedule look like this year?

MLB’s proposed plan reportedly will feature a playoff structure very similar to the one floated during spring training. It sounds like seven teams from each league will make the playoffs, and the top seed in each league will receive a bye in the wild-card round. The other two division winners and the three wild cards would play best-of-three series to determine who advances to the division series.

I haven’t been able to find confirmation that the division, championship, and World Series would play out as normal from there, but I see no reason to expect otherwise. The most likely scenario seems like an expanded playoff with extra wild cards, a first-round bye for the top team, and an added round of three-game series.

This clearly could lead to more chaos. The seventh-best AL team went 84-78 last year; the seventh-best NL team came in at 86-76. In an 82-game season, it’s probable we’ll see some 42-40 team sneak into the playoffs with a chance to shock the world if it can win a few October games.

The league appears content to go with the wildness in what’s already a wild year. Personally, if the league is happy adding extra playoff games to the schedule, my preference would be to see more regular-season games, to get the slate just a little closer to what is typical. Adding playoff games smacks of an effort drum up more revenue in an abbreviated season.

Regardless, even if there was a way to extend the regular season to 100-or-so games, the difference between that and the proposed half-season is minimal. This will be a strange season if it’s played, and the results will seem odd and warped whether there are 70 or 82 or 112 games.