I was planning to release a season preview this morning, but there was some news and notes from last night that bear mentioning first.
League and Player Union agree to expanded playoffs
Crazy things can happen in a 60-game season. For instance, at the 60-game mark last season the Washington Nationals were several games under .500 and there was some talk Davey Martinez’s job was in danger. Fast forward a few months and the Nationals ended the season as World Series champs. With that in mind, the idea of an expanded playoffs in 2020 makes some sense. I’m glad that one bad stretch won’t necessarily doom a good club. Getting the best teams to the playoffs, regardless of record, should the goal for the league. One way to do that is to have a long regular season, which is not a possibility this year. The other is to increase the number of teams who qualify.
In the agreed upon format, both the 1st and 2nd place teams from each division will qualify, along with the two teams with the best record beyond those six clubs. Seeding has not been announced, but we do now that all teams involved will compete in opening round three game series. There will be no one-and-done wild card games. Beyond that, the four winners will advance to the five game Division Series. The League Championship and World Series will each remain seven games in length.
I do worry about this setting a precedent and that the expanded playoffs are here to stay. The money involved may be too good for the league to ever relinquish once they get a taste. I am not against the idea of the expanded playoffs remaining with the caveat that it should come in conjunction with a reduced MLB season. The reason for playing 162 games is to weed out the pretenders. Only the strongest and deepest teams tend to survive the grind. And to see the teams who proved themselves over such a long stretch receive no byes and little reward by being forced to take on inferior teams in notoriously anything-can-happen short series is ludicrous to me. Cut the season to 140ish games, perhaps even less, if the expanded playoffs are to stick around.
Marquee closes deal with Comcast
It’s been a long process, but as expected the deal between the team’s new network and Chicago’s largest cable provided closed last night, with one day to spare.
Cubs present 7,000 Wrigley Field fan proposal to city
We know the team plans to have fans on the rooftops this season, but now we have our first proof they are hoping to get a limited number of fans into Wrigley Field by the end of the year. The State of Illinois has approved 20% seating capacity for sporting events, but the City of Chicago has balked at allowing the Cubs (and White Sox) from going ahead.
Cubs present city, MLB with safety protocols for up to 7,000 fans in Wrigley stands
(Via Sun-Times) https://t.co/w0lncNELu7
— Fran Spielman (@fspielman) July 23, 2020
Cubs Business President Crane Kenney does not expect any movement on their proposal until at least half of the season is played. His pitch is three-pronged. Not only would it allow the team to recoup lost revenue, but it would obviously give a limited number of fans the opportunity to attend important games down the stretch and hopefully into the playoffs. The third aspect is that it gives the Cubs the opportunity to work out how to handle the logistics of the safety protocols this season, as there is the possibility that the pandemic continues into next year, and they want to have gained experience in case similar protocols are called for at the beginning of the 2021 season.
Cubs sign Derek Dietrich to Minor League deal
When righty killer (111 wRC+ against RHP last season) Derek Dietrich was cut loose by the Reds last week, he became a hot topic on Cubs Twitter. The Cubs bench is very right hand heavy, with the possibility that when both Jason Kipnis and Ian Happ start at 2B and CF in the same game, the Cubs could potentially have no left-handed bats on their bench. Now, with the DH coming to the NL this year the lack of balance on the bench is less of an issue, but as the saying goes… you can never have too many left-handed arms and bats.
Dietrich is not a standout defender, but is capable at multiple positions. I would expect his intact process to take some time, and then he may need some adjustment time in South Bend, but I do expect Dietrich to at least end up on the taxi squad before too long. He gshould provide some much needed depth in case any of the Cubs left-handed hitters struggle or get injured.
So much of the Cubs season rides on the ability of Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Craig Kimbrel to deliver according to their potential (and contracts).
UPDATE: Cubs also sign outfielder Ryan LaMarre to Minor League deal as well
In addition to making the Dietrich deal official, the Cubs announced they’ve have also signed journeyman outfielder Ryan LaMarre. The 31-year old has made MLB appearances in each of the last five seasons, but has done so while bouncing between six different organizations. He’s never put up mch offense, but the Cubs must have felt they needed a bit more outfield depth after Mark Zagunis’s decision earlier this week to opt out of playing in 2020. The acquisitions of Dietrich and LaMarre bring the Cubs player pool up to 58 (assuming Robel Garcia clears waivers and returns to South Bend).