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Dodgers

Column: Dodgers, Angels have more to lose than games if MLB cancels season

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts is surrounded by teammates during spring training.
A lost 2020 MLB season means L.A. fans might never get a chance to see Mookie Betts play as a Dodger.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

On the bright side, if the baseball season is canceled, Arte Moreno won’t be the only owner responsible for wasting Mike Trout’s prime.

The owners of the 29 other teams will be too.

The reality came into focus Tuesday, when Trout posted a single sentence on Twitter.

“Tell us when and where!!”

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Until this point, conversations about the acrimonious negotiations to salvage the season were centered on blame.

Trout’s five-word plea to the owners, which was repeated on social media by a number of other high-profile players, served as a reminder of what else is at stake — in this case, a season of a once-in-a-generation talent’s peak. Southern California’s abundant baseball blessings are in danger of turning into curses, the anticipation of the new season replaced by the cruelest of what-ifs.

This was the year the Dodgers were finally on DirecTV and AT&T, as their team-owned station reached a distribution deal with the satellite and cable giants. But instead of a championship season, the channel could be forced to continue airing highlights from the 1988 World Series. Talk about an appropriate metaphor for the franchise.

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For the viewers at home, there will always be next season. That might not be the case for the Dodgers and their championship aspirations.

Prized off-season acquisition Mookie Betts will be a free agent this winter, regardless of whether he ever plays for them. Every MLB player will gain an entire season of service time this year if no games are played, according to the terms of an agreement reached in March between the owners and players.

The trade for Betts marked a refreshing change of strategy for Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations. Previously limited by his insistence of maintaining financial flexibility, Friedman absorbed not only Betts’ $27-million salary, but also half of the $96 million pitcher David Price is owed over the next three seasons.

The Dodgers have maintained their trademark depth. In Betts and Cody Bellinger, they also had legitimate frontline superstars.

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This season represents their most realistic chance of ending their cycle of October misery under the ownership of Guggenheim Baseball Management, outside of maybe 2013. That was the season derailed by a fastball that fractured Hanley Ramirez’s ribs. And with that, then-general manager Ned Colletti’s championship window closed.

Joe Maddon spearheaded the opening of a community center in Hazleton, Pa., where kids of all backgrounds gather for sports and other programs.

The clock is ticking on the current Dodgers.

Their advantage in depth was already compromised by the coronavirus outbreak, which eliminated the possibility of a 162-game season. Now, the advantage that a high-end performer such as Betts figures to leverage in a postseason series could be erased by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

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Clubhouse leader and middle-of-the-line presence Justin Turner also will be a free agent this offseason. Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernández, Alex Wood and Pedro Baez will be able to test the open market as well.

Several others will be close behind.

Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen could become free agents after the 2021 season.

If the Dodgers don’t win the World Series this year, they could be raising the commissioner’s trophy with an entirely new cast of players.

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The Angels don’t have to concern themselves about the possibility of a lost championship because their patchwork pitching staff promises to eliminate them from contention.

Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon throws during a spring training game.
Fans will have to wait until next year to see Anthony Rendon’s Angel Stadium debut if a 2020 MLB season doesn’t come to fruition.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

Which isn’t to say they wouldn’t entertain.

Their most significant move over the winter was to sign third baseman Anthony Rendon. While the Angels have Rendon under contract through 2026, this was unquestionably the most valuable season in their seven-year deal. The Angels aren’t guaranteeing Rendon $38 million in the final season of his contract because they think he will be worth that much as a 36-year-old player. They agreed to overpay him then to get him now, at 30.

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Shohei Ohtani is expected to return to the mound this season, after the two-way player was limited to hitting last year as he recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery. Ohtani was unable to weight train last season; resuming a strength program figures to unlock the 25-year-old’s trademark power.

And while Ohtani could lose a valuable year of development, shortstop Andrelton Simmons could lose his final months in Anaheim. The defensive wizard will be a free agent this offseason.

Baseball is now the country’s No. 3 sport behind football and basketball. Season or no season, that will remain the case. But something will nonetheless be lost if there are no games this year, specifically the opportunities these players and their franchises have at this specific point in time. Fans can be won back. Moments can’t.

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