I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t see it coming. Of course, I didn’t put too much thought into it; all the stories I read were about the back-and-forth between players and owners. The owners wanted to mitigate their “losses” as much as possible, first by attempting to drastically reduce salaries, then by actually drastically reducing the number of games played (whether there would have been or will be any real financial losses is up for debate, since owners refuse to open their books and let the public in on all of their various money-making deals we don’t get to be privy to). On the flipside, word from the players’ side hinged on variations of, “We’re baseball players and we want to play baseball!” Players argued for full pro-rated portions of their salaries, and made a case to play as many games as possible in the COVID-shortened timeframe we’ve been allotted (in an attempt to earn as much of their expected salaries as possible, more than their actual desire to play a shit-ton of doubleheaders, or otherwise extend the season well into November). Maybe I’m gullible, but I’d hoped once we finally got an agreement in place, we’d see not only a return of baseball, but a group of happy, grateful players (and owners, I guess, though they’re obviously far more behind the scenes) just glad to be back out in the world and playing the game they love.
Yeah, okay, I see how that sounds. But, before you lump me in with your most loathed Boomer sportswriters of old, I’m going somewhere with this.
Obviously, no one’s happy with a 60-game season. Fans aren’t, but we also have to take what we can get, because our feelings are never taken into consideration. The players sure as shit aren’t, as they’re barely getting over a third of their expected 2020 salaries. I would argue the owners aren’t happy about it either, but they can’t control when or how severe a pandemic will hit. Nevertheless, this is what we get, and we’re starting to see some really big names opting out of playing this season.
Apparently, if you can prove you have a pre-existing condition that would be an increased COVID-related risk, you’re allowed to opt out of playing and receive your full salary. That doesn’t appear to be the case in the names I’m seeing so far; most of the players opting out are exceedingly wealthy. These players are also allowed to opt out, but they don’t get paid, so obviously their wealth plays a large part in their decision. They’re not fringe players looking to make names for themselves; those players – even if they DO have pre-existing issues – can’t afford to sit out, even in an asterisk-season like 2020, because there are always younger, hungrier players coming down the pipeline behind them.
The Washington Nationals, at the time I’m writing this, have three players sitting out the 2020 season. As World Series champs from last year, it’s probably not as much of a disappointment to their fans, who are still likely basking in the glow of such magic; nevertheless, if I were a fan, I’d still be a little irritated (at least). I know how short these championship windows can be – in ANY sport – and if you don’t strike while the iron is hot, it can be another long, lean few decades of futility (as a Mariners fan, we don’t even have a World Series appearance and I know that feeling all too well!).
David Price recently said he wouldn’t be playing in 2020, and he was JUST traded (earlier this offseason) to another championship contender – the L.A. Dodgers – in a blockbuster deal that most hard-luck Dodgers fans had looked forward to as the move to potentially push their Always A Bridesmaid team over the top. He hasn’t been his old, Cy Young self in recent seasons, but Price is still quite an effective starting pitcher and would be of great help to that team. If I were a fan, I’d be totally despondent! Now, they’re so good, they could easily contend for a title without him, but that’s still not something you want to see when you’ve been SO CLOSE to a title these last few years (and arguably cheated out of one by the Astros and/or the Red Sox in 2017 & 2018).
Most recently, Felix Hernandez declared he’s going to sit out 2020. Of course, I love King Felix more than life itself, and so he can do no wrong in my eyes (he was also on a minor league deal and contending for a fifth starter job with the Braves, so he was no lock to make the team anyway, and indeed might have been given a head’s up that it wasn’t looking as good for him now as it was back in March, for whatever reason); still, selfishly, I’ll miss getting to watch his comeback attempt from afar.
So far, no Mariners have opted out yet. But, as I alluded to above, most of the guys in this organization are either not-yet-established prospects, or veterans still clinging to relevance (and potentially looking for substantial paydays from new teams in the very near future), so I don’t know if it makes sense for anyone on this team to sit out. Besides that, the M’s aren’t very good this year, so sitting out wouldn’t make any difference to a team that’s going to end up with a bad overall record regardless.
BUT, if I were a fan of a legitimate contender – or even a team just looking to sneak into a Wild Card pot – I’d be somewhere on the spectrum from Disappointed to Super Pissed, and probably waffling back and forth between those two emotions day by day. Asterisk-Season or not, 2020 presents a unique and fun opportunity for an Out-Of-Nowhere team to jump up and shock the world, earning a championship they might not have otherwise gotten in a full 162-game regular season! I think that’s exciting! It’s a fun way to shake up what’s normally a demoralizing slog, where most middle-of-the-road teams fall by the wayside anywhere from late April to late September (the longer you remain in contention, the more depressed you feel when the rug is ultimately pulled out from under you).
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t really care that much, for all the reasons I said above (especially about how the Mariners are going to be bad regardless, and they’re the only team I actually give a shit about). As a human being, you have every right to take your own safety and the health of your family into consideration. I’m not going to begrudge or belittle anyone for protecting their loved ones (I mean, let’s face it, I know teams are putting in precautions, but they can’t 100% guarantee the virus won’t infiltrate the clubhouse). I just want to watch baseball for a while, read about our upcoming prospects, and boo the Houston Astros. So, players can keep declaring they’re going to opt out all they want.
Maybe, if enough of the biggest stars go away, I can try to talk myself into the Mariners making a splash this season! It’s unrealistic, but nuttier things have happened.