Citing an estimated $8.3 billion in debt facing the 30 Major League Baseball teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season, commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that it's hard to predict how 2021 will shape up.
Among other examples of "historic high levels of debt" Manfred mentioned in an interview with Sportico were teams' operational losses of $2.8 billion to $3 billion.
As the pandemic wreaks further havoc, Manfred said, "It's going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don't have fans in the ballpark and have other limitations on how much we can't play and how we can play."
After a contentious spring and early summer of negotiations between MLB and the players union, MLB mandated a 60-game season, which began in late July.
Among the upcoming uncertainty is how comfortable teams might be in spending for free agents. Free agency begins shortly after the Dodgers-Rays World Series ends, which will be either Tuesday if the Dodgers win Game 6 or on Wednesday after Game 7.
An unsettled mood regarding free agency would affect future decisions as well, such as how much to offer players who are arbitration-eligible.
"The economic losses (this season) have been devastating for the industry," Manfred said. "You're seeing the ramifications of that in terms of decisions clubs are making with respect to (laying off) baseball operations and business employees. I mean, you've never seen those type of decisions, at least since I've been around."
Trying to look ahead to 2021 brings more questions, such as whether fans can return in person. Unless restrictions can be eased, fans in some states might not be allowed to attend, continuing the economic blow from this season's pandemic.
Also, border restrictions could keep the Toronto Blue Jays from playing home games in Canada. The team used its Triple-A stadium in Buffalo as a home away from home this year.
Despite the upheaval, Manfred praised MLB and the players for finding a way to make this season work.
"The players worked hard and really sacrificed. The club people have been great," Manfred said. "My staff has done a phenomenal job. The (players') union has really helped. When you get that kind of cooperation, you really have to feel good about it. ...
"I feel good about what we've accomplished. The best part of it is, it's been a real team effort. ... In order to get through the year, the clubs did a great job preserving liquidity, but they also took on a lot of additional debt."
--Field Level Media