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Buster Olney: ‘Excellent’ chance many players would skip a short MLB season



Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Buster Olney is fairly confident baseball will return. He is not as confident all of its players will be there.

As MLB and the Players Association battle over splitting revenue from an abbreviated season, there is an optimism that something will get done, even if it includes the commissioner setting a very brief schedule. Major League Baseball believes, because of the late March agreement, it has the ability to set the calendar provided players are paid their prorated amounts, setting up the possibility of a perhaps 50-game season in which players do not take cuts from their prorated amounts.

Of course, the players want more games, and the owners don’t want to pay the players prorated amounts for extended games. What if no compromise is reached, and Rob Manfred installs a 50-ish game season?

According to Olney, it likely wouldn’t be one that is fully attended.

“I think there’s an excellent chance that you’re going to have a lot of players who are going to choose not to participate,” the ESPN reporter said on “Papa & Lund” on Thursday. “Either because of legitimate health concerns, maybe family underlying health issues, people they don’t want to expose to coronavirus. But you also might have some guys who are eligible for free agency in the fall who, like college football players don’t play in bowl games, might say, ‘Not worth it.’

“If I were sitting in Mookie Betts’ shoes or George Springer’s shoes, the two biggest free agents in the fall, you’re going to have a 50-game season or a 45-game season, do you want to risk your free agency? And you’ve already taken a big financial hit anyway. Do you want to risk that to play?”

What about the players who are so dissatisfied by the past few months of negotiating? The NBA announced Thursday, with little hostility, it will be returning. MLB has dragged its feet, the two parties staring each other down.

“I also think there are going to be some players who are going to do the Ferris Bueller,” Olney said on KNBR. “They’re going to be passive aggressively saying, ‘I don’t like the way this came down. I don’t like the fact Rob Manfred rammed it down our throats, and I’m just not going to play.’”

The Giants’ to-be free agents include Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Jeff Samardzija, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval; there is not a young stud on the roster about to hit free agency. But the A’s have players such as Marcus Semien, who hasn’t gotten his pay day and is a free agent after this “season.”

“Fifty games, small sample size, what if you get hurt?” said Olney, who said Semien fits the mold of a player who could wait out this season. “What if you get a pretty serious injury? … What if you bat .200 in a 50-game sample and you don’t have the ability to dig your way out of that hole?

“There are a number of free agents who I think are legitimately, given where the revenue’s going to be at, given where the salaries are going to be at, a number of potential free agents, they would have to seriously think about that.”