There are a ton of questions surrounding baseball coming back, the biggest of which clearly being will it happen. All the ins and outs of an eventual agreement will be hammered out over the coming days or that singular question will render the rest moot.
The players have a signed agreement with MLB to take a pro-rated cut in pay and to be honest, Rob and company never should have put that forward if they intended to pull the rug out from under the players and ask for more concessions. I get that entirely and legitimately see where the players are coming from. But let’s move past it for now and pretend they’ll all play nice and figure it out, honestly they have incentive to do so on both sides and while money is getting the lion’s share of play in coverage and conversation, it probably isn’t even the biggest hurdle left to jump.
So, baseball comes back, and the owners are stuck with (through nobody’s fault but their own) their original agreement or at least pretty close to it. MLB rosters are expanded to 30 players, with large taxi squads following them everywhere they go as well. I would think that means four more spots making the league minimum in the case of the Pirates and with an already extremely low payroll they should have room to do that fairly painlessly. Still, profits will be down significantly across the board and it makes me wonder if some teams will go on a selling spree.
Before all this started, we were watching some of the top spenders doing some pretty uncharacteristic things to try and get under the luxury tax threshold, a situation the players were no doubt already watching closely as the luxury tax has been little more than a yield sign on the highway for big money franchises until recently.
I’m full of questions on this subject.
1. With salaries minimally being pro-rated, the luxury tax figure is pretty much out the window, right?
2. Will teams that already squeezed a nickel ‘til the buffalo pooped be even more inclined to dump salary?
3. Will trades or a trade deadline even be allowed this season?
4. If a player makes a club’s 30 man roster this season, does their clock start?
During a 162-game campaign you can afford and even expect an injury that sidelines a starting pitcher for several weeks. Pitching injuries are the worst as the recovery time is sometimes surpassed by the built-in ramp back up time. For instance, a quad pull to Clayton Kershaw could mean 3 weeks on the shelf healing, followed by three to four weeks building up to a pitch count again. Modern baseball and the way pitching have evolved makes even a hangnail dicey. This makes me feel some clubs that feel they could win the sprint an 80-game season could be might invest more heavily in pitching than before.
This could open the door for someone being interested in a stop-gap pitcher like Chris Archer. In other words, some top prospects may be put on a club’s 30-man roster and having Chris Archer could be more beneficial to the cause this season than that top prospect who is right now a rookie not getting at bats.
I’ve no doubt that this would be painted as the Pirates having a fire sale or being cheap and I’m sure that would at least be part of the equation, but it could also be the optimal time to get maximum return for a player who is absolutely not in the long term plans. Maybe a team is more willing to move that top prospect catcher who is third in line and would have spent all year at AAA getting at bats and playing time.
Again, I’m not saying this is something to look for as much as wondering if it could be a side effect of the execution of a restart plan. If I felt the Buccos were close, or could make a move or two and be in position I’d go in that direction but I’d see this more as an opportunity to get decent return for some assets the Pirates probably had interest in moving to begin with.
The Pirates would typically look for high ceiling low level return guy, but those guys don’t have a landing spot right now. That doesn’t make it impossible to still make a move like that but certainly makes it less exciting. For instance, Brennan Malone has been in the Pirates system since the offseason move of Starling Marte to Arizona, and we’ve not been able to see anything. Trust me the Pirates would love to be telling you that he has a 2-1 record with a 1.12 WHIP in low A right about now.
Now that’s from the Pirates side of things, what about a team like the Reds? The Reds are the darlings of the NL Central for prognosticators as they heavily invested in free agents and expensive trade acquisitions over the past two seasons. I personally still feel they are short a starting pitcher and possibly a catcher. Do they go all in to and try to grab a few more components? Maybe the Braves or Phillies feel the same. There could be significant competition amongst this group of teams to improve or fortify their rosters and give themselves the best chance at winning. The Mets could feel Noah Syndergaard’s injury moves their chance to next season and potentially find a team willing to take Cespedes for help elsewhere. Then again maybe they hold onto him for the DH spot.
MLB faces a whole bunch of questions as we move forward, but once a deal is struck, this could get VERY interesting and really quickly.