Nov 5, 2020 - Sports

MLB's bleak short-term future

Illustration of a baseball wearing a surgical mask.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Despite the pandemic nearly upending the 2020 season, MLB's long-term economic health appears strong.

Yes, but: The short-term outlook is much darker, as the league prepares for an offseason of transactional paralysis, all while the threat of a 2022 work stoppage looms large. And did I mention the minor leagues are in complete disarray?

This offseason:

  • Free agency: The financial hit owners took this season will be passed on to the players. We've already seen teams decline options on studs like Charlie Morton and Kolten Wong, and free agency spending will likely plummet. "Revenues are going down," Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said last week. "So it will be most likely [that] payroll will go down."
  • The unknowns: There's still plenty of time, but the league and players' union still need to figure out what next season will look like — replaying a negotiation that turned ugly this summer. On top of that, NL teams still don't know whether there will be a DH, which impacts free agency moves.

Looking ahead:

  • Expiring CBA: The current collective bargaining agreement expires next December, meaning the threat of a work stoppage will linger for the next 13 months. In normal times, CBA negotiations would begin this offseason. But the more immediate crisis of planning a 2021 season makes that unlikely.
  • Minor leagues: There was no minor league season this year, and MLB has already begun dissolving teams amid a historic contraction that could see 42 clubs lose affiliate status. While restructuring makes some sense, this is a bad look for MLB — and will be yet another negative storyline driving the news.

The bottom line, via WashPost's Dave Sheinin: "For baseball, 2020 featured an ugly labor battle that played out in public, a season reduced by 63%, a couple of major coronavirus outbreaks ... and total regular season attendance of zero.

  • "But as the coming months wear on, it may be possible to look back and regard 2020 as the good old days."

Series schedule:

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