Three strikes, you’re out.

This was the rule that Alexander Cartwright created in 1845 and it is still the prevailing guide to how the game is played. It’s also how baseball executives view the offseason which officially began on Sunday, when nearly 200 veteran free agents became eligible to offer their talents to new takers.

After a season unlike any other, the teams entered the winter months with apprehension, blocked by three difficult questions:

1. How much influence will the raging COVID-19 pandemic with no end in sight have on future income if clubs still cannot rely on fan income on match days?

2. With all the rules reverting to pre-pandemic status now that the 2020 season is history, will the National League keep the designated hitter?

3. To what extent will the lingering animosity towards union negotiations in the era of the pandemic interfere with work and management to agree on the new basic deal needed after next season?

If that sounds like a tall order, it is.

Since clubs rely on fan income on game days, all teams have taken a financial bath – top teams like the New York Yankees and world champions Los Angeles Dodgers suffer the most.

According to Stan Kasten, president of the Dodgers, “We have so many fans and make so much income in a typical year. We haven’t received most of them this year.

After Kasten made his comments on CNBC, the New York Post reported that the team lost $ 125 million in 2020 – after making a profit of $ 60 million the year before.

The difference was the suddenly shortened schedule from 162 games to 60 coupled with the ban on fans, who once paid for parking and then bought tickets, food and souvenirs at Dodger Stadium. In 2019, the most recent full season, Los Angeles led the majors in terms of total attendance (3,974,309) and average crowd size (49,065) with an average ticket price of $ 43. An average Yankee ticket that year was priced at $ 65.

The 30 teams all suffered from the March 12 stoppage, which cut the spring training schedule and the first four months of the regular season by two weeks.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week’s losses would average around $ 97 million per team and approach a total of $ 3 billion industry-wide.

Sport can no longer afford such losses, but is unfolding as if the pandemic is history. Major League Baseball has released a 162-game schedule, as well as a four-week spring training exhibition schedule to precede it, but there is no guarantee that the same issues that have forced massive revisions this year will fail. not continue – which begs a huge question – marks the return to normalcy in the world of baseball.

While fans are still excluded from the stadiums for safety reasons, teams will once again have to survive without income on match days, but will still have to face their players. This year, after much haggling, players were paid pro rata, per game.

According to Evan Drellich in Athleticism, big league baseball lost $ 6.1 billion, offset by just $ 3 billion in revenue, in the 2020 campaign. Just a year ago, he reported, the game had grossed 10, $ 7 billion.

Unsurprisingly, most teams cut the payroll to compensate. Several dozen productive players became free agents when their teams decided not to offer them new contracts or turned down options in their old ones.

The non-playing staff were hit exceptionally hard. After reporting a 95% drop in earnings, the Atlanta Braves cut jobs in all baseball departments in mid-September. The Oakland A’s fired about 150 people at the front office, the Chicago Cubs cut 100, the Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants 50 each, and the Boston Red Sox 40.

A planned reduction of 40 minor league teams has also hit major league clubs, which regularly hire at least half a dozen people responsible for minor league operations.

“Every organization in baseball is changed because of it,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. Athleticism. “Great men and women who gave so much to the sport have lost their jobs and no longer have the support, the camaraderie and the baseball fundamentals to build on. It is one of the tragedies of baseball this year.

A bright spot in an otherwise grim picture: New York Mets employees who suffered time off and layoffs earlier this year have found a savior in new owner Steve Cohen, who announced this weekend that his first move would be an immediate restoration of their original salaries – an investment of $ 7 million.

For the most part, however, the pandemic reigned supreme, with 230,000 deaths and more than nine million infections nationwide within a week of the World Series ending. Team leaders weren’t sure how they could tell if the crisis was persisting, how long it would last, or how badly it might get worse.

Equally unknown was the continuation or elimination of the designated hitter rule, first used by the National League as one of many experiments attempted in 2020. Once the season was over, all the collectively negotiated rules changed. – including seven-inning doubles matches and a “designated runner” placed on second in each additional inning – has returned to pre-pandemic standards.

That left more than a dozen designated free agent hitters wondering if they could negotiate with 30 teams or just 15 – assuming none of the National League clubs would be in the market for a DH. Among them was Marcell Ozuna, who led the NHL in home runs and RBI while posting a 0.338 batting average for the Atlanta Braves. He was actually in contention for a Triple Crown going into the final week of the season.

Players and agents weren’t the only ones reflecting on their status. GMs were unsure of how to go about building their clubs for next season – or if there would be any to be next season.

Even though the black cloud of COVID-19 is dispersed by the discovery of a potent vaccine by spring, there are more dark clouds on the horizon. The Core Accord, a huge and complex document that covers all aspects of the game, expires in 13 months. Almost every time it is renewed, it causes saber rattling on both sides and sometimes results in strikes or lockouts.

The last – the longest of the eight – lasted 232 days and wiped out parts of the 1994 and 1995 seasons, as well as the playoffs in between.

Bad feelings have persisted since the start of the year, when protracted player compensation negotiations during the pandemic prevented the season from opening earlier or running longer. In fact, the season only started after Rob Manfred exercised his right to break a deadlock and impose a schedule.

A myriad of issues, from duty time to minimum wages, will be on the table when the parties begin to speak. But they will first have to decide what rules, if any, will be kept (DH is very likely, as its use by the National League provides an additional 15 jobs).

Major League Baseball surprised the world – and even itself – by hosting an extended season and even playoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. But it will again have to overcome several hurdles if it is to resume normal activities. next year.

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