Uncertainty looms for Red Sox and Matt Barnes on MLB’s plan

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after making the third out in the eighth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on June 13, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after making the third out in the eighth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on June 13, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

While MLB owners and players negotiate how best to start the season, player representatives like Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes are in a difficult position.

With Major League Baseball presenting their plan for starting the 2020 season to the MLBPA (the players union) earlier this week, questions have abounded around the league as to how things will work. Teams and players have been in limbo and while now there’s at least a path forward to debate, there are several details that will need to be ironed out before both sides agree to the plan. These details will have an impact on the Boston Red Sox this year.

MLB’s plan called for an 82 game season, an expanded playoff field of 14 teams (up from the original 10), the DH in both leagues, teams using their home ballparks unless they’re in states with strict ordinances against it, expanded 30-man rosters, and restricted travel where teams will only play teams within their regionally realigned divisions (and by bus rather than airplane whenever possible).

The proposed plan would also have teams resume their spring training in June with a target date of July 4 to begin the regular season. There would of course be no fans in attendance and so the league and its teams have been trying to come to an agreement on revenue as owners would take a hit from the loss of ticket and concession revenue and are trying to pass that loss on to the players in the form of reduced salaries.

It all has the potential to lead to some messy negotiations which could scuttle the season before it ever gets (re)started if an agreement can’t be reached. For one Red Sox player caught in the middle, it means listening to both sides of the argument, relaying the information, and trying to represent his teammates while also looking out for the best interests of the sport.

Matt Barnes is the current Red Sox player union representative and while he and his teammates have been working out on their own in order to stay in shape and be ready to begin playing again at a moment’s notice, Barnes has also been acting as the informational liaison between the Red Sox players, the union, and the league’s owners.

Barnes told WEEI that he and his teammates are around “70 to 80 percent” ready and will be good to go in terms of ramping up and starting the season whenever that may be, but he did offer the caveat that this is uncharted territory for everyone involved, from the commissioner and owners down to the players, team employees, and fans. “Nobody has gone through it, whether it’s a rep, the union, the league. Nobody,” he said.

The challenge for Barnes and all of his fellow player representatives across the league is balancing the desire to return to playing (and getting paid) with the requirement to keep everyone safe and healthy. It’s not just the players who have to be considered; the safety of umpires, clubhouse attendants, managers, coaches, cameramen, and television and radio crews needs to be considered for any plan to be deemed workable to move forward.

Barnes is aware of this, telling WEEI that:

"“…everybody is being put in positions they aren’t necessarily used to. I know that everybody wants to play as many games as possible. I think we’ll get there. I think we’ll find a way to come to some terms in a way this is all going to work in a way that isn’t going to jeopardize the risk and health conditions of everyone. Everyone wants to play but you have to do it in a smart fashion.”"

He also has the correct perspective that while we all want to see baseball return, there are bigger things that need to be of the utmost concern.

"“I think a lot of guys have the ability to see the bigger picture and understand that we all want to be playing baseball and be playing as many games as possible,” said Barnes. “But this is a global pandemic and a national emergency where peoples’ lives are truly at risk. We have to make sure we’re taking care of the people who are in trouble and in bad health and that is the first priority.”"

When Barnes and all of his fellow player reps took on the task of reporting news to their teammates, none of them could have possibly foreseen the circumstances under which they’re now being forced to operate. While their duties are to represent the best interests of their teammates to the union and the league, they’re now being forced to think not only of player livelihoods, but the quite real life and death aspects of their health.

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It’s a difficult position for anyone to be put into, but these are strange times and as Matt Barnes said, everyone is being forced to adapt and adjust while discussing matters they’ve never thought twice about in the past. How the players union and league handle these negotiations and how the player reps like Barnes communicate that information to their teammates will determine whether or not we see any baseball in 2020.