The 2016 Rio Olympics are now over and the medals have all been handed out. As the world looks ahead to 2020 in Tokyo, Japan, many are excited for the return of baseball to the grand international stage.
Only question now will be, how will Major League Baseball handle the schedule?
Currently set to take place July 24-August 9, the International Olympic Committee has decided to reinstate baseball due to its popularity in Japan. Major League Baseball faces a unique hurdle that professional basketball and hockey don’t.
The IOC has made it clear that they want the best athletes to represent their respective sport. Most recently, the IOC voiced its displeasure when pro golfers Jordan Spieth and Rory McElroy opted to stay home due to rising fears related to the Zika virus.
The NBA benefits from being a winter sport that is played during the Summer Olympics. The decision for players to participate lines up just as players begin to prepare for the season to start. The NHL has made it a tradition to take two full weeks off during the winter games.
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Despite a condensed early season, many fans and players have raved about the time off and the focus on national pride.
So what does baseball do given the already restricted timeframe they have to work with? The answer may only lie in two choices that would ultimately affect the sport and its ability to support the MLB brand.
Option #1: Close down the major league schedule during the Olympics
For the record, I can’t state that I agree with any option given that any decision would involve compromise that will leave at least one group unsatisfied. If baseball wanted to promote its sport on the largest international stage there is, they must come to grips knowing that the best need to be playing.
The only way to get the likes of Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Clayton Kershaw would be to clear their schedules. The Major League Baseball schedule in its current form is too restrictive. 162 regular season games spread across an 183-game contract schedule. Built in days off and makeup dates don’t make a two-week break feasible.
Add in the fact that the season already covers part of February and goes into deep fall. Players simply can’t do it. There has been some discussion about reducing the schedule to 154 games, as it was prior to the current format. Players have shown an interest in that assuming they don’t lose any money because of lesser games played.
In addition, owners may balk at the idea as it would mean fewer revenue opportunities. Especially in smaller markets that rely heavily on any home game, they could get.
Hypothetically speaking, a two-week break could be done if the league chose to start earlier. The proposal would include starting spring training earlier in February. And front-loading the schedule so that teams in warm-weather cities or who play in a dome, would have more home games to start the year. That type of move could potentially reduce the chance of cold weather or snow postponement.
Any decision to lengthen the calendar will have to be approved. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too much to ask every four years.
Option #2: Only allow certain players to participate
The most logical choice if there is one, by making certain players eligible, the MLB season could continue as the Olympics take place.
In the past, players not on a current 25-man roster would be available to play. This would still allow some of the top prospects to play but wouldn’t deplete the teams at the Major League level.
To put that in perspective, in 2008 team USA was headlined by minor leaguers Jake Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Dexter Fowler, and Trevor Cahill. I think we can agree that with Arrieta and Strasburg, Major League Baseball is in good hands.
Baseball fans may view the Olympics as an extension of the Futures Game. By 2020, who knows what teams will have in their pipelines. But if history is an indicator, then baseball should be happy with the direction it’s headed.
In any regard, Major League Baseball now has four years to figure out its strategy for Olympic baseball. A sport that continues to fade behind football in terms of popularity. The cost of promoting the brand may outweigh the product we have here at home.