The Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB's Shortened 2020 Season

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2020

The Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB's Shortened 2020 Season

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    At last, after months of uncertainty and squabbling between players and owners, we have the long-awaited news: There will be a 2020 season.

    The deal between the players' association and MLB, which addresses health and safety protocols, was officially agreed upon Tuesday night following commissioner Rob Manfred's move to implement a 60-game slate.

    Spring training will resume on July 1, and a schedule is in place for the truncated season, per ESPN's Jeff Passan and multiple other outlets.

    As we look forward to actual Major League Baseball, let's examine 10 of the biggest potential winners and losers of the soon-to-commence 2020 campaign.

Loser: Rookies Looking to Break Out

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    As is the case every year, a number of touted rookies enter the 2020 campaign with a chance to make a splash and begin their big league careers in earnest.

    The shortened season won't make that impossible, but it could throw up a roadblock.

    Yes, expanded rosters will allow clubs to give more players on the bubble⁠—including youngsters⁠—a shot. Look out for an array of up-and-comers, including Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell and Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Robert, to name just a couple.

    But with every game counting more, teams with playoff aspirations will be less patient with any players who slump or struggle, especially unproven ones.

    Some rookies come out of the gate hot and stay hot, but many need time to acclimate and adjust to the big leagues.

    In the relative sprint that is 2020, time will be a luxury some clubs can't afford.

Winner: NL Teams with an Abundance of Hitters

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    The implementation of the universal designated hitter for 2020 will impact every National League lineup and roster. But some teams will reap a significant benefit—specifically, clubs with a glut of hitters.

    Two prime examples are the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals.

    The Nats have a crowded infield that includes Howie Kendrick, who posted a .966 OPS in 121 games in 2019 but could have been reduced to role-player status in 2020. Now, Washington can get the 36-year-old veteran regular at-bats while saving his legs in the DH role.

    The Reds, meanwhile, have a roster crunch in the outfield and can now slide Nick Castellanos, who hit 27 home runs and 58 doubles last season but is a defensive liability, into the designated hitter slot.

    Really, unless you're a stanch purist who loves to watch pitchers hit (or, often, bunt), this change is a win for everyone.

Loser: Top-Tier Aces

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    In a typical MLB season, a starting pitcher can take the hill 30 or more times. In this truncated season, that number will be drastically reduced.

    Yes, clubs could go with four-man rotations. But after the long layoff, teams are likely to employ more stringent pitch-count restrictions, especially early on.

    All of this means we'll see less of aces such as the New York Yankees' Gerrit Cole, Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer, New York Mets' Jacob deGrom and Houston Astros' Justin Verlander.

    Their starts will mean more since every game will mean more. And, assuming their teams advance, they'll have a chance to leave their mark in the postseason.

    But for guys who only play about once a week, a shortened schedule means even less action—and less entertainment for the rest of us.

Winner: Teams with Deep Rosters and Farm Systems

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    For teams with mix-and-match styles and fertile farm systems, expanded rosters will be a serious boon.

    Consider the Tampa Bay Rays, who began experimenting with an "opener" in 2018. With even more arms available, Rays skipper Kevin Cash will be able to get more creative with his pitching machinations. (If you dislike endless pitching changes, this might be a loss for you.)

    The Rays also have a loaded farm, which Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 1 in the game, and may find roles for top pitching prospects Brendan McKay and Shane McClanahan.

    The Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres also have deep systems and should be able to use the expanded rosters to their advantage as they compete for the postseason.

Loser: Fans of Statistical Records and Milestones

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Imagine one of the game's top hitterssay, the Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich or Los Angeles Angels' Mike Troutgoes on a tear and hits .400 or better during the shortened season. Would that be noted in the record books as the first .400 season since Ted Williams hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox in 1941?

    The knee-jerk answer is no, at least not without a mammoth asterisk.

    The same would hold for all other non-counting stats and milestones. And if anyone starts racking up counting stats at a close-to-record-breaking rate, we'll always be left talking about "on pace" with no closure.

    In a sport that's largely built around statistics, that's sort of a big deal.

Winner: Teams on the Playoff Bubble

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    Orlando Ramirez/Associated Press

    A shortened season increases the chances of something wacky occurring. As a general rule, the smaller the sample, the greater the chaos.

    And once a club makes the playoffs, anything can happen. We've seen enough wild-card teams go on title runs to know an invitation to the dance is sometimes enough.

    Other than obvious rebuilders such as the Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners, it's tough to count anyone out completely.

    Pay special attention to rising young teams, including the Padres and White Sox, who could use the 2020 format to blossom ahead of schedule.

Loser: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    If a shortened regular season is good news for clubs on the bubble, it's bad news for the presumed 2020 powerhouses.

    That includes teams such as the Yankees and Houston Astros, but it's especially true for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    While the Yanks and Astros have each won titles within the past 11 years, the Dodgers haven't hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy since 1988.

    They've endured some recent near misses, including a heartbreaking seven-game loss in the now-tainted 2017 World Series against the 'Stros.

    With a strong starting rotation and All-Star Mookie Betts added to a dangerous lineup, Los Angeles has a solid chance to win it all in 2020.

    But the 2020 agreement cuts both ways. Its increases the odds of something unexpected happening. On the other hand, if the Dodgers get their long-awaited ring, the naysayers will always point out they won it in a truncated season.

Winner: Houston Astros

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    John McCoy/Getty Images

    Speaking of the Astros and the sign-stealing scandal that tainted their 2017 World Series that really a big story anymore?

    This spring, the 'Stros were all over the news after MLB slapped them with a $5 million fine, suspended now-former general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year and stripped them of their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

    The extended COVID-19 layoff didn't wipe the slate clean. Houston will still surely hear boos, and Astros hitters might face a few brush-back pitches against select opponents.

    But with the Boston Red Sox and, now, the Yankees facing sign-stealing scandals of their own, the heat is at least partially off the Astros.

    They've got work to do to clean up their image, but their status as MLB's heel may fizzle faster than expected.

Loser: Fans of a Clear Delineation Between the NL and AL

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Once upon a time, the National League and American League were two separate entities. They played the same sport under the same MLB umbrella. But other than spring training, the All-Star Game and the World Series, they never faced off.

    The advent of interleague play in 1997 began to blur that line. Now, with the two leagues scrambled together in geographically configured alignments and the universal designated hitter in place, the NL/AL separation is virtually nonexistent. 

    If circumstances permit, MLB will almost certainly go back to the two-league format in 2021. But the universal DH seems like an inevitable long-term change.

    For those who identify as either "NL fans" or "AL fans," this blurring is a troubling if unavoidable trend. 

Winner: The Game Itself, for Now

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Ultimately, every baseball player, owner, fan and the game itself is a winner because the 2020 season is going to happen.

    The negotiations were contentious and at times downright ugly. No one likes a disagreement between millionaires and billionaires. And when the league's collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 campaign, we might be "treated" to another round of back-and-forth bickering. If we're being cynical, we could call everyone a loser.

    But the bottom line is, baseball will be played. It didn't have to go this way.

    Look at 1994, when a dispute over money destroyed the season in August and wiped out the World Series. The sport suffered in more ways than one. History could have repeated itself.

    Obviously, things are different now. But if players and owners had again placed the almighty dollar above all else, the repercussions for the sport would have been disastrous.

    Say what you will about the pros and cons of the shortened season; we've said quite a bit. Here's the bottom line: Baseball is coming back.

    That's a win for everyone.


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.