The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact almost every facet of normal Major League Baseball business, both in the immediate future and looking ahead to what may be a tumultuous 2021 season. The latest alterations include two expected changes to a pair of major offseason events, as both the Winter Meetings and the annual owners’ meetings have both been changed into virtual events rather than in-person gatherings.
The Winter Meetings have long been the focal point of the offseason calendar, often collecting just about every major power broker in baseball (owners, general managers, top free agents, player agents, media, etc.) under one roof for a four-day span. While the rise of electronic communication over the last couple of decades has made it easier for teams to swing trades and signings at any point in the offseason, the Winter Meetings is still a major hub for winter business, whether it be completing transactions or laying groundwork during those four days that results in completed deals a few days or weeks later.
This year’s Winter Meetings were set for December 7-10 in Dallas. The Rule 5 Draft has traditionally fallen on the final day of the Meetings, and while MLB’s press release made no specific reference to this event, it can be assumed that the Rule 5 Draft will be conducted in the same virtual manner as last summer’s amateur draft.
The owners’ meetings, which were set to be held November 17-19 in Arlington, aren’t as well-known to the casual fan, though naturally there is plenty of import whenever the sport’s owners gather in person. Ironically, the owners and league officials have more to discuss this year than in any other offseason in recent memory, though the many discussions about how MLB will proceed under the threat of the coronavirus will undoubtedly continue throughout the coming months.
For one, revenue sharing between teams is likely to be eliminated again in 2021, according to Evan Drellich of The Athletic. Some form of revenue sharing plan between larger-market and smaller-market teams has been in place for the better part of 25 years before the shortened 2020 season halted the regular plan this year. As one club executive noted to Drellich, this was a greater detriment to smaller-market teams than the pandemic: “The big markets have lost anywhere between $150 to 200 [million], middle markets about $100 [million], and the small markets really, haven’t lost anything. They got crushed because they got no revenue sharing.”
Labor talks with the MLB Players Association also loom this winter, as the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December 2021. Drellich notes that there is a chance the league could explore an extension on the current CBA, delaying talks about a new deal for at least a year until baseball’s business looks at least somewhat more normal. Working out a CBA extension would obviously be a huge undertaking unto itself, however, as the players’ union has long been eager to rework the terms of what it felt was an unfavorable contract in the last set of negotiations.
That said, Drellich writes that the players could have extra leverage in any CBA extension talks, if the league truly is eager to forestall any bigger-picture labor negotiations. Any number of short-term concessions could be floated by the MLBPA as conditions for extending the CBA, though given the wide range of issues the players have with the current deal, an attempt to make wholesale changes might as well amount to unofficial CBA renegotiation already.