KC Royals Midweek Musings: Bats, pay and other baseball

This edition of KC Royals Midweek Musings addresses the state of baseball bats, increasing labor tension, the effort to open baseball elsewhere, and other matters.

Some KC Royals Midweek Musings while wondering when it will be too late to begin the 2020 major league season:

The Louisville Slugger bats go quiet…for now.  There are no Sluggers coming out of Louisville. Hillerich & Bradsby, a baseball fixture for over a century and one of the leading manufacturers of major league bats, recently announced its factory is closed and most of the company’s employees are furloughed.

H&B has pursued financing from federal aid programs; as of this writing, those efforts haven’t succeeded

The Louisville Slugger bat brand, a significant market force for decades, was recently ranked third among a handful of bat manufacturers who supply the big leagues; the ranking data didn’t identify any current KC Royals as users of the LS.

Is the labor relations outlook souring?  The collective bargaining agreement controlling the terms and conditions of major league players’ employment expires late next year. The relationship between Major League Baseball on one side, and the Major League Baseball Players Association on the other, has been fraying since last year, but the pressures of the pandemic and the need to forge critical temporary agreements brought management and the union a bit closer when they reached an accord on several issues last month.

Now, however, the labor relations dam–weak to begin with–may be developing a crack. Management reportedly wants the union to consider compensation concessions tied to the certain drop in revenues fan-less games will cause. It’s not just ticket revenue at stake–empty seats don’t pay to park their cars, don’t buy hot dogs, pop or beer and don’t leave the games loaded up with new team gear and memorabilia.

The union contends player compensation issues were resolved last month as part of a general agreement the two sides forged–players will receive prorated salaries tied to the number of games canceled. But MLB seems to say those salary provisions don’t control if conditions require games to be played with no fans.

Evaluating the parties’ positions is difficult because their March agreement doesn’t appear to have been made public. It may boil down to a third-party interpretation of that agreement, a tricky proposition if its compensation terms and provisions are, indeed, vague or ambiguous. If they aren’t, the agreement will stand as written; if they are, interpretation will be required absent new negotiations and a superseding agreement.

Assuming a return to baseball is realistic this season, and games would at least initially be played without fans in the stands, the current labor-management rift could impede finalizing resumption plans. Neither side–MLB or the MLBPA–cede economic positions easily, for economics drive the arguments and the game.

But management and labor need to get together. Fans won’t soon forgive and forget if baseball could have been played in 2020 but a labor dispute prevented it.

A baseball return model to watch.  Professional baseball returned to South Korea Tuesday. The Korea Baseball Organization began a short exhibition season and Opening Day is scheduled for May 5.

Major League Baseball and the players union should monitor KBO developments as closely as they can. The Korean resumption model features many of the requirements, guidelines, and safeguards reportedly being considered by American baseball and health authorities. For at least the short run, these include encouraging players to wear masks in stadium areas other than the field and dugouts, requiring umpires and other game staff to wear gloves and masks, requiring players to answer health-related questions every day and taking player temperatures before games.

Also, spitting is prohibited and barehanded celebratory contacts such as handshakes and high-fives are discouraged. Players suspected of COVID-19 infection will be quarantined with the last venue they played in being closed for two days. Positive tests trigger immediate quarantine and investigation to determine if others will be quarantined. How such tests affect future play will be determined, apparently on a case-by-case basis.

American baseball will have much to learn from South Korea’s return to the game.

Baseball-Reference simulation update.  As you probably know by now, and as Kings of Kauffman’s David Scharff reported, baseball-reference.com is simulating the entire 2020 major league season via Out of the Park Baseball 21. You can follow along and track the KC Royals’ progress on a daily basis.

Through Tuesday’s games, the Royals continued to hover around the .500 mark at 11-12. They trail the AL Central Division leading White Sox by 6.5 games.

Jorge Lopez has started one of the four games in which he’s appeared and leads the KC staff with three wins. Closer Ian Kennedy has pitched seven times, has yet to surrender a run and has five saves.

Not surprisingly, Whit Merrifield leads the club with a .326 average, but he’s the only Royal hitting .300 or better. Surprisingly, however, Brett Phillips leads in home runs with six. Hunter Dozier has 20 RBIs.

Stephen Woods Jr. and Jesse Hahn are the most prominent players recently affected by simulated transactions–within days of coming off the Injured List, Rule 5 draftee Woods found himself returned to Tampa Bay and Hahn was DFA’d. Woods had pitched 1.2 scoreless innings and Hahn was 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in nine games. (Kyle Zimmer was previously released).

Besides the White Sox, the Yankees, A’s, Braves, and Reds lead their respective divisions outright while the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are tied for the NL West’s top spot.

That’s it for this edition of KC Royals Midweek Musings. We’ll be back next week with more; until then, stay safe and healthy.