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Q&A with MLB Insider Bob Nightengale

MLB considering expanding playoffs to 14 teams
Posted at 4:56 PM, May 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-25 19:56:05-04

It figures to be a tense week around Major League Baseball. Tuesday, the league will present an economic plan to the players association as the two sides try to reach an agreement to get the MLB season underway.

ABC15 Sports spoke to Bob Nightengale, the National Baseball Writer for USA TODAY Sports and an MLB Network Insider, about the hurdles to clear to see baseball played in 2020.

How would you describe the importance of this week for Major League Baseball to be played this season?

I think there has to be some progress that's been made. I don't think there is a drop-dead date. If they wanted to, they could keep pushing the season back, regular season through mid-October, maybe playoffs until mid-November, that sort of thing. But I think these next two weeks for sure, certainly you would like to see some progress made and not just a stalemate.

Players pushed back on some of the “over-the-top” health protocols, and wanted more on other issues like testing — do you think anything other than money will hold up a deal?

I really don’t. They are pretty much on the same page as far as the protocol. I'm sure they think, okay, if people in public can go out and eat in restaurants and drink at bars in Phoenix, you know, why can't the players, that sort of thing. It's going to be okay to shower in the clubhouse and do the hydrotherapy pools before and after games, so they're on the same page there. Now the owners are saying, help us out here because we've been losing money by staging these games, we make our big money in the postseason, so can you guys take a bit of a pay cut here, and we'll see what they come out with. 10-15% reduction, something like that.

If 50/50 revenue split is a non-starter for the players, any idea what this economic plan the MLB is presenting this week might entail?

It could be several things. It could be certainly just a percentage of their salary that's being reduced. It could be deferred. The trouble with deferring the money is then the union feels like, okay, it’s deferred money, then teams will have less money to spend this winter during free agency. Free agency is going to be tough enough because of the lack of revenue that that clubs have, so I don't think they want to put more of a strain on the free agent class this upcoming winter.

There’s a history of trust issues between the two sides, but at the end of the day do you think they’ll be able to find a middle ground to make this work?

I really do. I'll be shocked if we're not playing baseball and having spring training here in Phoenix in June and baseball games in July. How early in July, you know, we'll find out. It could be July 4 weekend, it could be a little bit later. But I still think they get a deal done. Both sides want this too much.

How much do you think whatever deal is struck, if one is, under these circumstances will affect future talks between the owners and players?

I think it won't have any effect unless they can't reach an agreement. If they can't reach an agreement, then I think it really bodes poorly for the future. Remember, they have to have a new CBA done by December 1st, 2021. If there's no season because of finances, then anything could happen next year. You could see a work stoppage, a strike, something like that. So, it is imperative that a deal gets done.

It’s a squabble between billionaire owners and millionaire players, but minor leaguers have already been on the short-end of the stick and that money is slated to stop at the end of the week. What does the future look like for the minor leagues?

Nightmare for the minor leaguers. Teams can’t host games, so they’re not going to be making money, so keep those doors closed. The top 20 minor leaguers will be working out, probably at their own spring training sites in case they’re needed, almost like a taxi squad for football. I would think maybe late summer they could do some sort of deal like an extended Arizona Fall League, extended spring training type thing, to get those minor leaguers playing because it's going to be really bad just stunting their growth for an entire year and not having these kids play for 12 months.

What percentage chance do you give of baseball happening this year?

I think 95% we're going to have baseball. I just can't see the two sides fighting over the money that much. There’s just too much money to be made and nobody wants to sit out an entire year. If it's just strictly economics and salary issues and stuff like that, I can't see it stopping. I really can't.