On this whole mess, and why it makes expansion inevitable

It has not been a good year for Major League Baseball. To be fair, it has not been a good year for human civilization in general, but even before the coronavirus crisis and the fallout from the George Floyd incident, baseball was having a rough year. Now it seems trivial, but earlier this year the biggest issue facing baseball was arguably that they’d let a team that was running the biggest sign-stealing operation in decades off with a relative slap on the wrist.

Remember that? Those were, amazingly, now the good old days. Now? Well, because of the usual toxic mix that comes with billionaires and millionaires fighting over money, there’s a chance that no season will take place, or will be replaced by some sort of 48-game glorified miniseason.

(An aside: Why is it that inevitably the players get blamed? The owners have way more money and usually are far more ruthless and cruel in these negotiations than the players.)

While we cannot guess whether a 48-game season would be considered a “better than nothing” hunger-crop meal enough to satisfy the public, a full-on cancellation would be the biggest blow to baseball’s intangible stature since at least the 1994 strike and possibly even the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Given that baseball’s current intangible stature in much of the country outside of the die-hard fans can best be described as “Present-day episodes of The Simpsons where plenty of people still watch and even more are glad they are on but not as many people tune in unless if something big or unusual happens,” that would be… bad.

Oh, and unlike those previous apocalypses (apocalypsii?), there is no Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken or 1998 HR race walking through that door to save the day.

Now, there is an argument still to be made that it is not as bleak as it looks. As labor lawyer and Baseball Prospectus contributor Eugene Freedman notes on his Twitter feed, labor negotiations are an entirely different beast from the negotiations (player contracts, trades, etc.) that sportswriters have to usually cover, and so the framing often is prone to hyperbolic statements and leaked comments that make it seem far more hopeless than it actually is. There is some truth to this: I can vaguely remember 2002, where it looked like a work-stoppage was all-but-guaranteed. Similar to now, there were comments about how poorly baseball would look by stopping play in a national crisis (in that case the early years of the War on Terror), and yet it seemed both sides seemed headed towards a cliff.  Yet, at the last minute, a deal was struck, peace was ensured, and the games went on. It is entirely possible such an occurrence will repeat in 2020.

Except, of course, there is another lingering issue: the current collective bargaining agreement expires after 2021, so even if everything comes out of this current crisis hunky-dory, we get to do this all over again at the end of next season.

So, what does this all mean? It means, oddly enough, that we’re going to see more Major League Baseball, because it makes expansion inevitable. It may be in a previous MLB city like Montreal, or a new one like Portland or Charlotte. It could even be in a new country entirely like Monterrey, Mexico. Regardless of where the new teams go or what form the divisions move to as a result of it, though, it will happen. Here’s why:

  1. Immediate money. Of course! History has shown in the past that one of the easiest ways for baseball owners to get some quick cash is to expand. It’s also one of the quickest way for the union to make money, as more teams means more roster spots and thus more union members. It’s not a new phenomena. The 1993 expansion that brought in the Marlins and Rockies was partly a way for the owners to raise money to pay collusion debt. Although the 1997 expansion wasn’t directly a result of trying to recoup money from the ’94 strike and the after-effects (the expansion committee had been formed before the ’94 season even began), it certainly didn’t hurt. Even most of the earlier expansions had roots that weren’t so much benevolence as business interest: the first expansions that brought in teams like the Angels, Senators (now Rangers), Mets and Colt .45s (now Astros) were done as a way to head-off threats to create a third major league.
  2. Minor Leagues. The other big pre-coronavirus crisis that baseball was facing was the plan to contract the minor leagues. The coronavirus essentially knocked out the political and financial leverage that MiLB had to effectively fight it, and it is now all-but-inevitable. Major League Baseball expansion, however, would also mean minor league expansion, which MLB could use as a public relations olive-branch to ensure that some of the places that lose their MiLB teams will only be without affiliated baseball for a few years.
  3. Increased attendance/revenue. More teams means more games which means more fans means more revenue. Duh. Given that MLB will definitely see a drop in attendance in the coming years both because of the uncertainty of when/if a coronavirus vaccine will be available as well as disgust from this whole mess, the increase that would come from expansion would be in the owners and players interest.
  4. Public relations in general. Oh, there was less baseball? Now there’s more baseball, and in more cities that MLB had previously.

Now, perhaps everything ends up alright. Even then, though, the fact is that MLB has lost a lot of revenue this year, and the owners will want to make it all up.

In other words: expansion is coming. Expect it.

 

 

Figuring out Arizona Major League Baseball (and how it is doomed)

On Monday, it came out that Major League Baseball is considering a radical if not completely insane idea to make the 2020 season happen in this age of coronavirus: put everybody needed for the season in Phoenix, separated from as many non-baseball people as possible, and start the season there in empty stadiums normally reserved for the Diamondbacks, spring training, and perhaps other teams (presumably referring to Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University, the two Division I schools in Phoenix). Players, coaches, training staff, other personnel, and perhaps even families would be lodged in spring training facilities or bought-out hotels. Games would be played in the available stadiums, perhaps as many as three a day depending on scheduling.

It is, of course, a completely insane idea. Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk is right in calling it pure madness. There are so many things that could go horribly wrong with it. Perhaps not surprisingly, MLB is already stressing that it is only being considered and is in no way decided upon.

But, what the hell, let’s say that it actually does happen despite everything. How are they going to lay down the league?

It stands to reason that the usual Cactus League teams would keep their usual spring training facilities as their home bases, save for the Diamondbacks themselves, who would use Chase Field. It would also stand to reason that to make the “tripleheader of games” idea possible, they’d want to spread out the time zones of the “home” teams so that a East Coast team could still have most of their home games at a reasonable hour back in the home cities.

So, going through the available stadiums in Phoenix, I’ve assigned hypothetical places for teams. I used a rule of thumb as assuming that each site (with the exception of Chase Field) could ‘handle’ the number of MLB teams it usually does plus one. Teams in bold are the ordinary residents of those places during the spring.

Chase Field (3): Arizona Diamondbacks (are usually at Salt River during spring), St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (3): Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves

Sloan Park (2): Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox

Camelback Ranch (3): Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets

Goodyear Ballpark (3): Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates

Surprise Stadium (3): Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays

Tempe Diablo Stadium (2): Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays

American Family Fields of Phoenix (2): Milwaukee Brewers, Miami Marlins

Peoria Sports Complex (3): San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles

Hohokam Stadium (2): Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies

Scottsdale Stadium (2): San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Arizona State): Houston Astros/Overflow

Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark (Grand Canyon University): Detroit Tigers/Overflow

 

You’ll notice that I have the two Division I college stadiums set as “overflow”. That would mean that they’d also serve as back-up locations in case a stadium is too overbooked for a day. Other stadiums would also act as overflows as necessary, but since the college stadiums would only have one assigned team they’d be the first ones used.

Also, it should be noted that I’d imagine that Chase Field would end up being a venue for all the teams (for reasons I’ll get to later), but for the sake of this article I’m going with the three teams I have assigned.

So, let’s just say that somehow this DOES happen. What would a hypothetical “opening day” look like? Just for fun, I’ve randomly picked out June 6th, a Saturday, and assumed that MLB just picks up the schedule where it was and figures out the rest later on.

The schedule for that day (Eastern Time/Mountain Time) could look something like this:

2 p.m. (11 a.m.) Cardinals at Pirates at (overflow) Chase Field

5 p.m. (2 p.m.) Tigers at White Sox at Camelback Ranch

Approx. 7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Rays at Yankees at Chase Field

7 p.m. (4 p.m.). Brewers at Red Sox at Sloan Park

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Mariners at Marlins at American Family Fields of Phoenix

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Phillies at Braves at Talking Stick

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Rangers at Blue Jays at (overflow) Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Astros at Orioles at Peoria Sports Complex

7 p.m. (4 p.m.) Mets at Nationals at Scottsdale Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Angels at Twins at (overflow) Phoenix Municipal Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Indians at Royals at Surprise Stadium

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) Cubs at Reds at Goodyear Ballpark

Approx. 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Rockies at Dodgers at Camelback Ranch

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Giants at Athletics at Hohokam Stadium

Approx. 11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) Padres at Diamondbacks at Chase Field

So, looking at this schedule, you are probably going like: “Okay, this will be awkward, but it’s do-able!”

Well, yes, in theory. Except if it were to happen, it wouldn’t be theoretical any more. It’d be real, and that means a few VERY big issues.

Sure, there are the obvious ones that deal with logistical and moral dilemma: whether players would be willing to leave their families, what would happen if somebody tested positive for COVID-19, who and how everyone would be isolated, how teams would handle filling roster spots after injuries (presumably some type of slimmed down AAA team acting as a taxi squad), whether it is morally right to be doing this at all given that people are dying out there, the list goes on. Even if we were to magically wave a wand and make all those other issues disappear, there is one issue that makes the plan unworkable.

What I’m talking about here is a more physical one. As Elliot Gould’s character of Reuben says in Ocean’s Eleven, even if you get past all of the casino’s security, rob it, and get out of the front door… you’re still in the middle of the desert!

And, make no mistake, Phoenix is a goddamn desert. Take this opening day that theoretically is June 6. On June 6, 2019, the high temperature in Phoenix was 103 degrees. The low was 77 degrees. If you were to bring this to 2020, it would mean every game save for the Chase Field games, the two outdoor 10 P.M. games “hosted” by West Coast teams, and possibly the 8 p.m. local games would be taking place at least partly in heat that could be charitably described as “the devil’s jock-strap.” Never mind the coronavirus, players would be in danger of dying from heatstroke!

(This, by the way, is why I imagine that Chase Field would end up being a rotating venue without a “home” team, as rotating it would allow every team at least the occasional chance of air-conditioned relief.)

The obvious way, of course, to get around this is to play only night games aside from  some games in Chase Field. However, that means games starting late on the East Coast, which wouldn’t do well with TV, which without fans is basically the only way the owners are supposed to make money and pay salaries. In other words: that ain’t happening.

Now, there could be a way around this, but it’d require them to take the MLB quarantine bubble to somewhere else.

Greater Los Angeles, for example, is the site of two MLB stadiums (three if you want to go full freaky and frankenstein the LA Coliseum again), 10 Division I baseball programs, the MLB Urban Youth Academy, and a few other high-quality amateur or semi-pro fields. What’s more, the weather in LA is usually in the 70s during that time!

Of course, the thing is that Greater Los Angeles is a lot bigger than Phoenix,  has (so far) been hit harder by COVID-19 than Phoenix, has worse traffic, doesn’t have the spring training facilities that can used for conditioning, housing, etc.

Okay, then how about the Gulf Coast of Florida? After all, that is also spring training territory. While using the entire Grapefruit League wouldn’t make sense given that the coasts of Florida are three hours away from each other, putting it just on the western side would put 10 spring facilities as well as Tropicana Field all within at most two hours from each other. Throw in Al Lang Stadium (a former spring training facility now partly converted for use by Tampa’s soccer team but which still seems to have enough of a diamond shape to be used for baseball with some work), Jack Russell Stadium (the former Phillies spring home that is still well-maintained and even was used by the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2019 due to renovations in Dunedin), Henley Field (a classic old ballpark now used for D2 baseball which was once used by the Tigers and which has occasionally been taken over by them again during renovations at their usual spring place), Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven (former Indians training site), and the D1 ballfields at USF and FGCU and you have 17 possible places for games- even more than Arizona!

Even if you were to cut it down to just the Tampa Bay area itself, you’d get Tropicana Field plus five-to-seven spring training facilities (depending on whether you’d count Bradenton and Sarasota as the Tampa Bay area). Add in USF and the former spring facilities and you’d have 11-to-13 possible places, or roughly around the number that Phoenix has.

So what’s the issue with Tampa? For one thing, some of those old ballparks I included in the count aren’t used for spring games anymore for a reason. Having everyone on eastern time would mean that west coast  “home” games would have to start around 10 p.m. local, which may not work depending on certain ordinances in Florida.

Another reason? Rain. That’s probably the biggest issue with Tampa (besides all the other issues about holding this enterprise in the first place). Every year during spring training, there’s a day or two (or three) where seemingly every Grapefruit League game gets rained out. Well, guess what, it rains more in the summer in the Tampa area than it does in the spring.

So… what does all this mean?

It means, basically, that baseball is stuck with lots of bad choices. Even if they somehow miraculously get everything else in order (and I doubt they will) and if it is deemed appropriate to move forward (which is highly up in the air), the fact is that holding essentially an entire season in one city is tough to do while still making it feasible financially and physically to do so. So ultimately, the question is… how far are Major League Baseball and its players willing to go to have a 2020 season of any sort of meaningful length?

I suspect that, as the crisis continues, we’ll sooner or later get the answer.

“No Explanations Given” MLB predictions for 2019

Here it is- 25 predictions for the 2019 MLB season with NO EXPLANATIONS GIVEN. You want to know why I think some of these? Too bad! In some cases, I may not even be sure myself.

  1. Boston will win the AL East.
  2. Cleveland will win the AL Central.
  3. Houston will win the AL West.
  4. The Yankees and Twins will get Wild Cards.
  5. The Yankees will win the Wild Card game.
  6. The Astros will win the American League.
  7. The Phillies will win the NL East.
  8. The Cubs will win the NL Central.
  9. The Dodgers will win the NL West.
  10. The Nationals and Brewers will get Wild Cards.
  11. The Brewers will win the Wild Card game.
  12. The Phillies will win the National League.
  13. The Astros will win the World Series.
  14. Mike Trout will win AL MVP.
  15. Trevor Bauer will win AL Cy Young.
  16. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will win AL Rookie of the Year.
  17. Alex Cora will win AL Manager of the Year.
  18. Ronald Acuna Jr. will win NL MVP.
  19. Max Scherzer will win NL Cy Young.
  20. Victor Robles will win NL Rookie of the Year.
  21. Dave Martinez will win NL Manager of the Year.
  22. The Baltimore Orioles will have the worst record in MLB.
  23. The “Opener” will become more common.
  24. Giancarlo Stanton will lead MLB in HRs.
  25. Worries about a work stoppage at the end of the current CBA will increase.

Just for the record…. (2018 Baseball Predictions)

For the record…

The Houston Astros will repeat as World Series champions, beating the Washington Nationals in 6 games.

The Miami Marlins will have the worst record in baseball.

The Baltimore Orioles will trade Manny Machado by the deadline.

Mike Trout will be MVP… but only because Manny Machado will have been traded to an NL team.

Giancarlo Stanton will not hit 60+ HRs, but will hit 50+ HRs.

Same goes for Aaron Judge.

The Yankees will win the AL East

The Indians will win the AL Central.

The Astros will win the AL West.

The Nationals will win the NL East.

The Cubs will win the NL Central.

The Dodgers will win the NL West.

The Red Sox and Twins will be the AL Wild Cards, the Red Sox will win that game.

The Brewers and Diamondbacks will be the NL Wild Cards, the Brewers will win that game.

Shohei Otani will not win AL Rookie of the Year.

Otani will contribute more on the mound than the plate.

Ronald Acuna will be NL Rookie of the Year.

Michael Kopech will be AL Rookie of the Year.

Clayton Kershaw will win NL Cy Young.

Chris Sale will win AL Cy Young.

There will be three no-hitters this year, but only two of them will be by a single pitcher.

The AL will win the All-Star Game.

Many of these predictions will be wrong.

“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2016): The Texas Rangers shouldn’t claim all of Texas

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post (of varying amounts of seriousness) about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2016 season. Earlier installments can be found here. This is the Rangers’ entry.

Okay, this is something that, while not the April Fool’s joke of Continuuvideo, is still on the irrelevant side:

Why does the team in the Dallas-Arlington metropolitan area, the “Texas Rangers”, claim all of Texas, when the Houston Astros exist?

To be sure, the act of claiming an entire state even while there are other MLB teams in it isn’t new. It took awhile for the Marlins to stop being the “Florida Marlins” and instead the Miami Marlins, and the Angels renamed themselves the “California Angels” even though multiple other teams had already been in California. And yet, now, the Texas Rangers remain of Texas, even though at no point were they the only MLB team in the Lone Star State.

It’s obvious, of course, why they remain that way: there’s no such thing as a “Dallas Ranger” or “Arlington Ranger”, and the team has been around too long and seen too much success (most of it recent) to go and change it now, there’s too much merchandise and cache attached to it. It’s the same reason why a certain Los Angeles NBA team is named the Lakers even though there are no natural lakes in LA and why Salt Lake City’s NBA team is called the Utah Jazz even though Utah is probably one of the least jazzy states of the union (my apologies to all Utah-based jazz musicians). Or how a certain NFL team has a racial slur for it’s nickname even though every sane person who isn’t actively being paid by that or wasn’t literally raised as a fan of that team knows it is a slur (and even those people know it’s a slur, they just won’t admit it). The inertia of the brand is too much.

But still, c’mon, Rangers. Why are you pretending Houston doesn’t exist? Not cool.

“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2016): Introducing CONTINUUVIDEO, with a preview of the SAN DIEGO PADRES!

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post (of varying amounts of seriousness) about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2016 season. Earlier installments can be found here. This is the Padres’ entry.

With the renewed vigor of the Continuucast, I am proud to announce that the Baseball Continuum will also begin doing a VIDEO SEGMENT, entitled CONTINUUVIDEO. The first installment deals with the San Diego Padres.

Among the topics covered:

-San Diego’s preparations for the 2016 All-Star Game

-Discussion of GM A.J. Preller’s strategy after last year’s failures

-The Padres’ somewhat underrated pitching staff

-Fun anagrams for Yangervis Solarte (including “Solitary Avengers” and “Greatly Aversions”)

-And a special appearance by a guy who used to sell fish tacos at Petco Park!

Go see it here!

Over at @HOVG: The latest “Wisdom and Links” has the “30 Teams, 30 Posts” for the Reds

Cincinnati gets it’s “30 Teams, 30 Posts” time in the sun over at the Hall of Very Good today. Check it out.

BREAKING OOTP Ep. 7: Schlafly’s Royals (Also “30 Teams, 30 Posts” for the Royals)

In BREAKING OOTP, I push Out Of The Park Baseball to it’s limits in various scenarios. Some will answer questions, some will settle scores, and some will push Out Of The Park Baseball to it’s very limits, to see if I can literally cause the game engine to beg for mercy.

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post (of varying amounts of seriousness) about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2016 season. Earlier installments can be found here. This also fulfills the Royals part of that.

This will be a controversial entry in BREAKING OOTP. It’s going to be a bit political. You see, not too long ago, a woman named Phyllis Schlafly had an opinion on baseball. There’s nothing wrong with that. People have opinions about baseball all of the time. Some of them are even insightful.

Her opinion, however, was hateful, ignorant and wrong. She believes that MLB should KICK OUT ALL OF THE FOREIGNERS. In fact, she openly says “It is time to cut off visas for foreign baseball players, and return our National Pastime to Americans.

This, needless to say, is a bigoted and xenophobic view of baseball, and anyone who honestly believes it should be rightly sent to the dustpan of history. However, it’s also objectively wrong and ignorant. Even if she was right that Americans have a god-given privilege to have every baseball job in America (AND SHE IS MOST DEFINITELY NOT RIGHT), her arguments for the superiority of American MLB players are so paper-thin you could poke holes in them with a baby’s finger. For example, she uses the claim that the vast majority of Hall of Famers are American to “prove” that foreign players are inferior, utterly ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Hall of Famers came from an era before baseball became the diverse multi-national pool of players it is now. She also uses as “evidence” the fact that only Americans won the big awards in 2015, ignoring the fact that that was an aberration and that plenty of people from outside the United States have won those awards in the past.

So, to prove this bigoted old lady just how wrong she is, I’m going to show just how out-of-their-league a team made up entirely of American white guys would be in modern-day baseball. But who?

Now, she seems to think (according to her actual article, which I’m not linking to because I don’t want to give her the pleasure of the hits) the 1944 Cardinals were the pinnacle of baseball. Never mind that 1944’s Cardinals weren’t even the pinnacle of white American baseball, given most of the stars were off fighting WWII. Still, the 1944 Cardinals did win the World Series, so to produce her vision, I figure it would be a good idea to do it to the most recent MLB champions, the Kansas City Royals. It’s obviously not a one-to-one correlation, but it’ll do. Go below the jump for more:

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“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2016): Jarrod Parker, the A’s, and how baseball isn’t fair

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post (of varying amounts of seriousness) about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2016 season. Earlier installments can be found here. Now, the Athletics.

Baseball is an unfair game. It’s a cruel game.

It’s financial structure is cruel: the biggest markets still have major advantages, both in exposure and in resources.

It’s success/failure ratio is cruel: the best hitters in the world are still failing to put a ball in play over half the time, and it’s best pitchers can still be expected to give up runs every and any time they were to pitch nine innings.

And it’s not fair to people like Jarrod Parker.

Jarrod Parker was- is a pitcher. Could have been a good one. May end up still being one. But it’s doubtful.

Because baseball isn’t fair, and Jarrod Parker is now facing his third Tommy John surgery. Not many people come back from that. As in… two people have.

It’s not because of anything wrong that Parker did. It just happened, the result of the human arm not being made to throw a spherical object that fast.

As Commissioner Giamatti once said: It breaks your heart. It’s designed to break your heart.

“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2016): Papi’s last ride is a bit more complicated

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post (of varying amounts of seriousness) about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2016 season. Earlier installments can be found here. Today, the Red Sox and David Ortiz.

Every year, it seems, there is a player who is going on a farewell tour. And this year, it’s David Ortiz.

But this year, the farewell tour is a bit more complicated. Because David Ortiz is more complicated. Yes, he is one of the most beloved figures in 21st Century baseball, and seems to be a pretty cool guy. But there are some things that will make this farewell tour a little uneasy.

First, there’s the steroid talk. David Ortiz has never officially tested positive for anything in his career, but he reportedly was one of those who tested positive when MLB did preliminary testing in 2003 to get an idea of how many MLB players may have been using PEDs before true official drug testing began in 2004. Again, this is not official, but it’s been said to have happened. And Papi himself has admitted that at certain times in his career he wasn’t 100% sure what he was putting in his body.

Secondly, there were his comments this spring on domestic abuse. They were utterly tone-deaf, and a reminder how far baseball- and society- has to go in handling and dealing with these issues.

And lastly, and by far the least important, is how he was on the field. David Ortiz was a good, and often great, player, but he was no slam-dunk Hall-of-Famer like some previous people who got retirement tours, such as Cal Ripken, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

So will David Ortiz get a retirement tour? Yes. Will he deserve it?

That’s less clear.

Next: The A’s.