Trying to evaluate the 2020 Major League Baseball season can leave you scatterbrained.
The 60-game format, installed after contentious negotiations between the owners and players, has created unprecedented unpredictability. It’s a massive reduction from MLB’s usual 162-game regular-season schedule, therefore opening the door for significant variances from the norm.
New strategies might be deployed, new faces might emerge sooner than expected and teams we think are bad actually might sustain a hot streak long enough to carry them into the postseason, whereas teams we think are good might stumble out of the gate and never recover in the unique sprint to the finish line.
None of this even takes into account COVID-19, which could throw a wrench into everything at a moment’s notice. After all, the coronavirus is the reason we’re in this bizarre situation.
Simply put, the only certainty is uncertainty — which sounds deep but really is just a very philosophical way of giving you the shrug emoji when trying to figure out what the heck’s about to happen.
So, as we prepare for baseball amid a very chaotic backdrop, let’s dump some random thoughts on the table.
1. We’re actually doing this?
This prevailing thought really applies to each of the major sports, as so much has happened in recent months — and continues to happen — that it’s difficult to comprehend that we’re finally on the cusp of a return to action. The particulars of the MLB season are especially surprising, though, because it once seemed like the league would follow in the footsteps of the NBA and NHL and opt for a bubble/hub city scenario.
2. Some team should get really weird with its fake crowd noise.
Empty ballparks will be an adjustment for everyone — players, coaches, broadcast networks, media members, etc. — but it’ll be fun, albeit less than ideal, to see what steps are taken from an audio perspective.
3. Player development is all over the map right now.
The most recent MLB draft, complicated by college and high school seasons being cut short, was reduced to five rounds (from 40), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for aspiring big leaguers. With the minor league season being wiped out, teams across the majors must decide which prospects to carry in their player pool. In some cases, prospects not expected to debut in 2020 will be included for the sake of maintaining year-to-year player progression.
4. How much stock will teams put into 2020 performance?
Say someone with a limited track record gets hot for a couple of months before hitting free agency this winter. Will that player cash in? It’s already likely teams will spend less given the financial ramifications of the shortened 2020 season, but they’ll also need to determine what’s real and what’s not as everyone navigates a wacky schedule that’ll affect routines, rosters and, in some instances, production.
5. How much money will the pandemic cost Mookie Betts?
Betts has played his cards correctly all along, betting on himself ahead of free agency and thriving every step of the way. But while he once seemed poised to cash in with a $300 million-$400 million contract, it’s now fair to wonder whether any team — including the Los Angeles Dodgers — will shell out that much cash this offseason.
6. Teams should encourage players to wear masks.
Not only would this enhance (and promote) safety as coronavirus cases rise in some states. It also seems like a decent marketing opportunity, with the potential to raise money for COVID-19 relief. Players could customize their own masks, much like they were able to customize their own cleats in recent seasons as part of MLB Players’ Weekend.
7. It’s too bad we’re not experimenting with more rule changes.
The extra-inning thing — start with a runner on second base — could be cool. Maybe. I don’t know. But if ever there was a time to mess around with the rules in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle…
8. Pitchers probably will be ahead of hitters when the season opens.
There’s no substitute for facing live pitching if you’re a hitter, so it’ll likely take time for some offenses to start clicking after a stop-and-go spring training-turned-summer camp.
9. Why hasn’t more been made of that secret baseball group in Florida?
Seriously, an underground All-Star Game? What a wild story.
10. Buy stock in young teams.
The 60-game format should benefit teams stocked with up-and-coming talent, for those players can be deployed freely — think: no fears about restricting a young pitcher’s innings — and potentially have a profound impact in such a short burst. How often have we seen rookies thrive upon reaching the majors while opponents try to figure them out? Well, now, there will be less time to solve the puzzle and slow the young guns.
11: And with that in mind…
The Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres are two teams to watch in the American League and National League, respectively.
12. Thanks for the future trivia answers.
We’re going to look back in a few years — probably while aimlessly browsing FanGraphs or Baseball Reference — and scratch our heads over certain stat lines. Will someone hit .400, for instance? We could wind up with some very random league leaders, too.
13. Shohei Ohtani is built for this mad dash.
The biggest challenge with two-way players is keeping them healthy, rested and capable of performing at an optimum level over the long haul. Now, with the season shortened to 60 games, Ohtani seemingly can keep his foot on the gas.
14. So is Mike Trout… or not.
Trout considered skipping the season altogether. Now, it appears he’ll play but miss time for the birth of his first child, which is totally cool. Except he’s the best player in baseball, at the peak of his powers, and this season more or less could turn into a wash for him as far as cementing his legacy.
15. The Houston Astros are the villains that baseball needs.
Will Astros hitters get plunked often this season as retribution for their sign-stealing scandal? Maybe. But Houston?s lineup remains stacked, and those extra baserunners could lead to runs and thus more success for the reigning AL champs. Talk about your all-time backfires.
That?s ultimately what makes the Astros so hateable: They?re not just cheaters. They?re also really good, and, collectively, they carry themselves with a certain swagger. It?ll be extremely entertaining to see how opponents handle the Astros this season and beyond — remember: Houston only faces the AL West and NL West this season — after widespread verbal backlash in wake of MLB?s investigation.
16. It?ll be awkward if the Dodgers finally get over the hump this season.
The Dodgers have secured seven straight NL West titles, winning at least 91 games in each of those seasons. They went to back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018, and yet, this might be their best roster. But wouldn’t it be a bit anticlimactic if their first title since 1988 comes in a quirky, 60-game season, perhaps in front of no fans?
17. Don?t overlook the managers.
There could be a real emphasis on in-game strategy this season based on the heightened importance of each contest within a condensed schedule. That makes the skipper?s job even more difficult. It?s easy to forget this offseason?s managerial carousel featured several huge changes, including Dusty Baker to the Astros, Joe Maddon to the Los Angeles Angels, Joe Girardi to the Philadelphia Phillies and Gabe Kapler to the San Francisco Giants.
18. The trade deadline will be a dud.
Roughly five weeks separate Opening Day and the Aug. 31 trade deadline — hardly enough time to figure out the true contenders and pretenders — and there’s just way too much uncertainty — financial and otherwise — to envision players swapping teams at a considerable clip. Simply traveling amid the pandemic can be a logistical nightmare. Imagine having to uproot families. Not to mention, only players in teams’ 60-man player pools can be traded, limiting the number of assets with which each organization has to wheel and deal.
19. The ?Long Gone Summer? ESPN “30 for 30” was whatever.
Just need to get that out there. It wasn?t terrible. But it also was relatively boring given how truly captivating the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa actually was.
20. Live in the moment.
Will this season be strange? Yes. Are the circumstances ideal? No. But at the risk of sounding like a tool, let?s just appreciate the 2020 campaign — idiosyncrasies and all — because it?s historic, if nothing else.