MLB’s coronavirus agreement leaves one big unanswered question
The tough part is over.
Now, comes the tough part — figuring out what kind of season can be had, if there is actually going to be a major league season in 2020.
MLB and the Players Association finalized an agreement on issues that needed immediate attention, notably how and if players would get paid and whether they would receive service time under a variety of scenarios, including no games played at all in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The union ratified the agreement Thursday night in a phone conference that had all 30 player reps and upward of 100 players in all. The 30 MLB owners unanimously ratified Friday in a noon conference call.
Thus, the union received its key concession — that players will get service time under every scenario, including if there are no games in 2020. If that were to occur, players would be credited for 2020 the same service time as in 2019, which — among other things — would graduate current walk-year players such as Mookie Betts, J.T. Realmuto, James Paxton and Marcus Stroman to free agency.
MLB’s key was cash flow and not wanting to pay out too much when no revenue is coming in. So the deal between the sides calls for a $170 million payment from MLB to 40-man roster players covering the first two months and nothing more if no games are played. That saves owners almost all of the roughly $4 billion in salaries that would have been due in 2020. Plus, there is now an assurance that the union will not sue for pay if nothing further checks come with no games.
MLB also wanted the right to erase the draft at least this year as a way to save further. The sides agreed that a draft will be held no later than July 20 and the commissioner has the right to lower it from 40 rounds to five if MLB so decides. There also were financial constraints put on the draft and international signs.
What was addressed only in broad strokes and not fine detail was what to do about an abbreviated regular season — if such a thing could be played. There was a good faith understanding that the sides would attempt to play as many regular season games as possible. Players are paid based on those games. And MLB’s highest-revenue period is during the summer after school lets out.
However, there is a long way from here to games. The agreement includes a promise to begin immediately discussing an accelerated spring training schedule, split doubleheaders for the regular season, expanded rosters, potential elimination of the All-Star Game and extending the regular season into October. The regular season was due to end Sept. 27 and any quickened spring and addition of doubleheaders is going to necessitate pushing rosters upward of 26, especially to add pitchers.
The sides concurred that what will guide the re-opening of the 2020 season are removal of government restrictions that would prevent games in front of spectators (as an example, stay-at-home orders or restrictions on mass gatherings), an absence of travel restrictions and medical expert advice that returning to work was safe. The agreement does nevertheless open the possibility of playing at neutral sites — perhaps spring training facilities or in cities determined safe — and/or spectator-free. At that point, MLB would have to decide if it was financially prudent to play without a gate or in relocations unlikely to draw significantly for teams not from that city.
The Commissioners Office and the union also committed to explore a one-time change to the structure and format of the 2020 postseason, including expansion. All changes would have to include player consent.
More playoff inventory could be a way to recoup some lost money, since networks favor postseason and, especially, do-or-die games over the regular season. MLB had wanted to go to a 14-team playoff system beginning in 2022. Perhaps that could be test driven in 2020. Though if MLB is able to return that means other sports also are in competition trying to make up for lost time and dollars, perhaps cluttering the TV sports landscape in October, November and December, when MLB also would have to consider warm weather or domed sites for games.
That is why officials from MLB and the Players Association intend immediate and regular communications to continue even after this agreement. There are so many options and scenarios that need to be considered and negotiated, just in case the sport is fortunate enough to get the green light to return for 2020.
Source : Joel Sherman Link