Washington Nationals are ready for Opening Day after months of negotiations
The defending World Champions will play the Yankees with no crowd
The Washington Nationals' season will begin Thursday at 7 p.m. at Nationals Park against the New York Yankees. But, their return didn’t come without obstacles.
Right now, D.C. is in phase two of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. Nonessential travel outside of the Washington area is discouraged, but the Nationals will travel throughout the season, adhering to Major League Baseball guidelines.
In the official press release from the MLB regarding the shortened season, health and safety remain the top priorities for baseball this year.
“MLB is working with a variety of public health experts, infectious disease specialists and technology providers on a comprehensive approach that aims to facilitate a safe return,” the press release said.
Games will be played in empty stadiums for the foreseeable future, meaning that there will be gameplay at Nationals Park for the 2020 season.
Back on March 11, down at the Nationals West Palm spring training facility, the reigning World Series champions were conditioning and preparing to defend their crown. It was sure to be another exciting season for the club. Little did players know, the entire league would face several challenges.
The next day, MLB announced the cancelation of all spring training games in light of growing COVID-19 cases and concerns. Then, with two weeks left before Opening Day, the league chose to delay the start of the regular season, without any start time set in stone.
As March progressed, the idea of a full season of baseball for the 2020 season began to look unlikely. A series of discussions between the MLB Players Association and owners to have players earn prorated salaries looked promising at first.
That would mean that a player’s earnings would be cut based on the percentage of the games that would be played for the season, such that an 81 game season would cut salaries in half.
The first official offer for a shortened MLB season did not go over well with players, and a brutal negotiation process between the Players Association and owners began. At some points, the idea of a season looked grim.
Veteran Nationals relief pitcher, Sean Doolittle, expressed concern about a possible start to a season. “Where does baseball fall in the public response to this,” in response to an NBC Washington Sports reporter asking about his thoughts on a possible season this year.
The players made their intentions clear: They wanted their money, and they wouldn’t settle for a massive pay cut just to have a season. After three months of negotiations, a deal was reached on June 23rd. The MLB will have a 60-game MLB season and playoff schedule that will run from July 23 to Oct. 28.
When asked about the three-month negotiation process between the two parties, star Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer spoke about the “ugly side” of business in baseball in an interview with NBC Sports Washington on July 1, 2020.
“Because the business of the game is never pretty,” Scherzer said. “It’s always ugly. There’s never just an easy fight about the business of the game.
The new proposed schedule for the season will feature more divisional play to mitigate travel and keep players and coaches safe. There will be 40 divisional games and 20 interleague games this season.
The Nationals have retained much of their championship roster this season, but, like any other team, they couldn’t keep everyone back together.
This offseason, Washington lost all-star third baseman Anthony Rendon, who signed a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angles Angles.
Losing Rendon was a major blow for the team, considering the impact Rendon had offensively coming off of a 34 home run, 126 RBI season in which he had a stellar .319 batting average.
Since the season has been shortened to 60 games this year, every game is crucial and will carry a heavier weight than in year’s past. The big question of the upcoming season has to be how much will the loss of Rendon impact the team.
The Nationals will also have to recuperate for the loss of 1B Matt Adams, 2B Brian Dozier, and RP Hunter Strickland.
The team did manage to retain ace starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg with a lucrative seven-year, $245 million contract. The deal keeps their five-man rotation intact, a rotation that was largely responsible for the team’s success last year.
The team also retained INF Asdrúbal Cabrera, INF Howie Kendrick, catcher Yan Gomes and RP Daniel Hudson, which gives fans some familiar faces to watch once again this season.
The Nats brought in more pitching and utility players to help bolster their depth for the upcoming season as well. With the addition of Houston reliever RP Will Harris, who gave up the infamous World Series game seven home run to Kendrick, as well as former Miami INF Starlin Castro and former Milwaukee 1B/OF Eric Thomas, the Nats have positioned themselves amongst the NL East elite once again.
The Nationals front office has placed their faith in prospect 3B Carter Kieboom, who manager Dave Martinez said should see a lot of time at third base during the upcoming season. Washington hopes that Kieboom and the veteran Cabrera can fill the void left by Rendon.
With a young, talented roster filled with consistent hitters and big bats along with deep starting pitching and an even deeper bullpen than last year, the Nationals are expected to compete for a spot atop the NL East. This is sure to be a memorable season due to the current circumstances in the world. Ultimately, fans are grateful to have America’s national pastime back when they feel like they need it the most.