For the last few weeks, the Major League Baseball owners and players have been carrying out a very public dispute over exactly how to bring their game back from its coronavirus-induced suspension. Unlike the NBA players and owners, whose sport has already played out 80 percent of its regular season, or the NFL players and owners, whose sport doesn't start for another three months, the parties in MLB are dealing with the least palatable scenario — they're trying to construct a truncated regular season, which hasn't started yet, and do so with the likelihood that fans will not be allowed in the stadiums.
All of this makes for a whole lot of contentiousness as to how much of the collateral MLB damage each side, players and owners, incurs. Back in late March, both sides agreed the players would get paid a prorated portion of their salaries based on the number of games played. However, they didn't address the effect of the empty stadiums on the bottom line at that time.
So now the owners are trying to cut deeper into the players' salaries, contending that with no fans, they will lose money every time a game is played. Much has been written about the various proposals and counter proposals. The latest from earlier this week was the following:
News at @espn: If Major League Baseball and the players can't come to an agreement on a return-to-play deal, the league has discussed implementing a season in the 50-game range and paying players full prorated salaries. On the latest twist in negotiations: https://t.co/qFNgat86hh— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 1, 2020
I have mixed feelings on a 50-game regular season. On the one hand, that's barely enough games to where the season feels meaningful. I mean, what would you think about an NFL regular season with just FIVE games? That's the same ratio that MLB is discussing under this plan. On the other hand, I am a fan of the Houston Astros, and I think there are significant reasons why a 2020 MLB campaign where the regular season is just 50 games could benefit them. Those reasons are as follows:
4. Verlander and Greinke ain't gettin' any younger
It's crazy to think that in August of 2017, neither of these future Hall of Famers was even on the Astros. (NOTE: Neither was Gerrit Cole, who has come and gone since them.) Now, they are the foundation of the team's pitching staff heading into the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Both are under contract for two more years. Verlander has already benefitted from the time off due to the coronavirus, as he was able to get his ailing groin surgically repaired, but both Verlander and Greinke would benefit greatly from a regular season where their aging arms and bodies are only taking 60 or 70 innings of work instead of over 200.
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3. Lance McCullers' comeback from Tommy John surgery
Before Verlander arrived in late August of 2017, it looked like the future of the Astros' pitching staff was going to be Dallas Kuechel and Lance McCullers, both of whom were named to the 2017 All Star Game. Now, Kuechel is gone, on his third team in three seasons, but McCullers remains. He is coming off Tommy John surgery, and has not pitched since 2018. Like Verlander, McCullers is already benefitting from the time off, in that he should be able to hit the ground running with expanded innings to start the season, assuming he's been simulating what his workload would have been on his arm in April, May, and June. A big key for the Astros getting back to the World Series will be McCullers' return to his 2017 form.
2. Yordan Alvarez's old man knees
The Astros have had plenty of prominent players miss time over the last couple years with significant injuries. Jose Altuve has had multiple leg injuries, George Springer has had hamstring issues, and Carlos Correa has a mad scientist for a masseuse. However, the one low key concerning lingering ailment surrounds the knees of Yordan Alvarez, who turns 23 in June, but has the knees of a talk radio host in his 50s. A 50 game regular season virtually ensures that the pounding on Alvarez's knees will not have taken a massive toll by the time the postseason rolls around.
1. Embracing the Astros' hate
Besides all the medical reasons that a shortened season would help the Astros, there's the emotional side of things. Let's face it, the Astros are the ultimate baseball heel right about now. They are hated by everybody outside of Houston, with fans from the other 29 MLB teams clamoring for an asterisk by their 2017 World Series title. I could think of no better middle finger to the rest of the baseball world than to have the Astros win the World Series in a season where the regular season is lopped down to a third of its normal size. The only thing that would be better would be if, in an expanded postseason, the Astros secured the seventh and final spot in the American League playoffs and went on to win the World Series.