Nearly two weeks have passed since Major League baseball suspended operations due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Opening Day 2020, which had been scheduled for this Thursday (March 26), will now take place later in the year, with the exact date hinging on the effectiveness of the containment strategies imposed across the country.
Predictably, the delayed season has created logistical complications pertaining to player compensation, service time calculations, and potential schedule alterations. The league and union continue to negotiate on those matters, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan.
Passan has many, many more details from the negotiations than we’ll note here, including the potential that teams will cut staff heading into May, but we’ll hit on the important takeaways.
1. Both sides hopeful for June start
The best-case scenario for the baseball season appears to be an early June launch. The league and union are said to be hopeful that can happen. Whether or not that proves to be overly optimistic is to be determined. Recall that team executives have already noted the necessity of a four-week ramp-up period — a second spring training, in essence — so pitchers can stretch out their arms. Under the early June scenario, that would mean camps resuming in early May.
2. Players open to doubleheaders
For as long as the start date remains in limbo, it’ll be impossible to get a feel for how many games will be on the table. Passan has talked to numerous players who would be willing to play up to two doubleheaders a week as a way of fattening the schedule. That, plus entertaining empty-stadium games and running the regular season into October, would permit the league its fullest year. For perspective on how many games would be lost if the year does kick off on June 1, consider that last year the Washington Nationals played their 58th game on that date.
3. League has pledged advances
The other most obvious question is how will be compensated and what would happen if the 2020 campaign has to be canceled. Per Passan, the league has pledged an advance of more than $150 million to be split by the union. An important consideration is that the money “would not be repaid to the league in the event of a canceled season.” Should the season be played in any form, the players would likely be paid a prorated amount of their salaries.
4. Service time solution?
Later on Wednesday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that MLB and MLBPA made significant progress on a service time agreement. Rosenthal and Sherman are reporting that the league has agreed to a deal where the players will get the same amount of service time for 2020 that they got in 2019 if the season is called off. Our own Dayn Perry laid out why service time discussions are a critical point for this season, especially if the season is cancelled.
The fallout here means that one huge name, Mookie Betts, could hit free agency without having ever played a game for the Dodgers. It also would move Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant to within one year of free agency instead of two regardless of what happens to the 2020 season.
Why would league owners agree to this? Sherman has some details:
Let’s grasp onto point number two. The best guess is the owners believe there will be a season. They can prorate service time to go with percentages. That is, if they play 100 games and a player gets called up from the minors and appears in 75 games, he’ll get 75 percent service time, which would equal roughly 122 games in a full season.