Imagine waking up Christmas morning, exchanging gifts with the family, having a midday brunch and then gathering around the television to watch . . . Game 6 of the World Series?
What seems absurd to many makes perfect sense to agent Scott Boras, who has used the downtime caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to brainstorm ideas for how baseball can maintain the integrity of its traditional 162-game schedule and four-tiered playoff system despite a lengthy delay to the start of the season.
“When you’re in jail and you can’t go anywhere,” Boras said, alluding to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order that Californians stay at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, “these kinds of things are nice projects to work on, right?”
There is a growing sense among baseball executives that a best-case scenario for the sport would be an 81-game regular season beginning around July 1 and a postseason in October. There is also a fear among some that the 2020 season might be canceled in its entirety.
Boras is more optimistic. He believes a June start is “well within the vision of what could be,” and said he has submitted proposals to Major League Baseball for a 162-game season that would begin June 1 and a 144-game season that would start July 1.
Both feature a playoff schedule that would run Dec. 3-26, complete with wild-card games, five-game division series, seven-game championship series and a seven-game World Series. Postseason games would be played in eight domed stadiums and three Southern California stadiums.
“We have it all mapped out,” Boras said. “It’s workable. We’ve done climate studies, and in Southern California, the average temperature in December is 67 degrees, which is better than late March and early April in most cities. We have 11 stadiums we could play postseason games in. I’m gonna get my neutral-site World Series after all.”
Boras has long been a proponent of playing the World Series — or, at least, the first two games of it — at a neutral site to give fans and corporate sponsors months in advance to plan travel to and purchase tickets for games, turning baseball’s signature event into a multiple-day happening like the Super Bowl or All-Star game.
Boras represents some of the game’s highest-paid players, having negotiated more than $1 billion in contracts over the offseason for Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Dallas Keuchel.
The more games played in 2020, the more likely players would be paid their full salaries and accrue a full year toward arbitration, free agency and a full pension.
Questions of salary — would base pay, bonuses and incentives be prorated based on the number of games played? — roster size and the annual draft are among the many issues MLB and the players union are working through during the COVID-19-induced shutdown.
But the schedule is a top priority, and Boras has an app for that. Under his plans, the bulk of the regular season and all of the playoffs would be played, preserving much of the teams’ local television revenues and MLB’s national TV revenues, the overwhelming bulk of which come from postseason broadcasts.
Under the Boras plan, wild-card games would be played Dec. 3, the division series would be Dec. 5-9, the league championship series Dec. 11-17 and the World Series on Dec. 19-26.
There would be no days off in postseason series, and games would be played in Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, Miami, Seattle, Arizona, Milwaukee, Toronto, Houston, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Arlington, Texas.
“All the players I’m talking to want to play all the games, and we can map this out,” Boras said. “We’re just trying to let [MLB] know we have the ability to do it, that there’s a logical way to do it. You have the facilities. You have the sites to do it. The difference is how the playoffs are run and where they’re played.
“I think having a planned World Series at a designated site would be a tremendous economic gain for our industry. You could secure corporate sponsorships and have entertainment surrounding it. The Super Bowl has one game. Here, we can have five to seven days of festivities.”
There are flaws to Boras’ plan. A regular season encompassing October and November would require some games to be played in nasty weather, but Boras said the schedule could be adjusted to minimize the number of late-season games in cold-weather cities.
A July 1 start would require teams to play at least a dozen doubleheaders, but Boras said MLB could reduce the strain by expanding rosters to 30 or so players for doubleheaders, scheduling them in the middle of series and following those series with days off.
Fans who have endured financial hardships because of the coronavirus probably won’t be able to afford to travel to another city to watch their team in the playoffs, and teams such as the Dodgers and Houston Astros could gain an unfair advantage if they were allowed to play postseason games at home.
A playoff run to Christmas also would force MLB to push back the start of the 2021 season until at least mid-April.
The NHL wants to avoid a similar issue. In a question-and-answer session released Monday, the NHL said it does “not anticipate a scenario in our resumption of play format that would endanger or interfere with the league’s ability to stage and execute the 2020-2021 NHL season in its entirety.”
Both the MLB commissioner’s office and the players union, citing ongoing negotiations, declined to comment on potential schedule scenarios and the input they’ve received from agents and front-office executives regarding schedules.
The Boras plan is not perfect, but what plan would be in this time of uncertainty? Baseball, like every other sport, is in unchartered waters, and no idea for preserving the schedule should be deemed too radical.
“I think everything is on the table,” said Derrick Hall, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks. “We have to play a season, for sure.
“Baseball has always been the return to normalcy, and if there’s any need for it, it’s right now, just like there was after [the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks], in war time, any time. We are the sport that needs to get back.”
Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.