Major League Baseball owners and the MLB Players Association finalized an agreement on Friday to tackle a slew of issues stemming from the delayed start to the 2020 season.
That’s good news for baseball — players, owners and fans alike — but some aspects of the deal have the potential to be a net-negative long-term for teams like the Miami Marlins, teams in the midst of a rebuild and with a focus on improving from within.
No specifics have been laid out regarding how the schedule will play out when — if, really — the 2020 season begins. That’s nearly impossible to do given the uncertain nature of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
However, the groundwork for other key topics have been addressed.
▪ Three factors have to be met for games to continue: No bans on mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans, no travel restrictions in the United States and Canada, and medical experts determine there would be no health risks for players, staff or fans. Commissioner Rob Manfred can use “appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible” and the topic of playing in empty stadiums can be revisited.
Both sides made it clear they want to play as many games as possible. Manfred already said a full 162-game regular season is highly unlikely, but there is willingness to get creative with the schedule if it means more games will be played.
“Players want to play. That’s what we do,” MLBPA union chief Tony Clark said on a conference call Friday. “Being able to get back on the field and being able to play, even if that means their fans are watching at home, but being able to play for their fans is something they’ve all expressed a desire and an interest to do, and to do so as soon as possible.”
That means potentially pushing the regular season into October and having playoffs in November. That could push the postseason into neutral site games in warmer climates — Marlins Park, perhaps? — if necessary. The same goes with more frequent doubleheaders.
▪ Players will still accrue service time and can still gain a full year’s worth even if the season is shortened or does not happen at all. Put another way, even if the season is scrubbed, all players will receive the same amount of service time as they had last year, moving players one step closer to free agency.
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In the Marlins’ case, Jonathan Villar, Matt Joyce and Francisco Cervelli would hit free agency before taking a single swing for the team. The same could happen for relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler if Miami doesn’t pick up his club option. Meanwhile, eight Marlins players would move into their first year of arbitration, setting them up for paydays above the league minimum. Those eight: Brian Anderson, Drew Steckenrider, Jorge Alfaro, Lewis Brinson, Ryne Stanek, Caleb Smith, Elieser Hernandez and Garrett Cooper.
In the grander scheme of MLB, granting a full year of service time would mean top players like Mookie Betts, Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman and J.T. Realmuto among others would become free agents even if the 2020 season didn’t happen.
▪ The 2020 MLB Draft will be shortened to as few as five rounds and the 2021 draft could be as few as 20 compared to the normal 40-round process. The international free agency period that normally starts on July 2 could be pushed back to as late as January. Draft picks would get only $100K of their bonus in 2020. Half of the remaining money they are owed would be due on July 1, 2021. The rest will be paid by July 1, 2022. Undrafted players would be allowed to receive a maximum signing bonus of just $20,000 compared to the usual $125,000.
The Marlins are still relying on the draft to build up their organizational depth as they maneuver through their rebuild under the Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter ownership group. Trades helped them get a group of top prospects who are either already on the big-league club or are on the cusp, but the home-grown players they are developing from the start are pivotal to making or breaking this team’s future.
Of the Marlins’ top-30 prospects according to MLBPipeline, 13 were either drafted in the past two season or signed as international free agents. That includes four international free agents in outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, outfielder Victor Mesa Jr., infielder Jose Salas and pitcher Breidy Encarnacion and one player drafted later than the fifth round in pitcher Alex Vesia (17th round in 2018).
▪ Salaries will be prorated. MLB is advancing players $170 million over the next two months (total salaries for MLB contracts this year are about $4 billion). The rest of their salaries would be dependent on how many games are played. Should the season be canceled completely, players are not allowed to sue for full salaries.
More specifics will be dictated by when baseball can resume a normal workflow.
Based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s mid-May. Factor in the likely need for a mini training camp of sorts to get players ready, and real games probably aren’t starting until June if all goes according to plan, although even that seems optimistic.
Manfred, in a Wednesday night interview on ESPN, wants to see “a credible number of games” played should the regular season happen. How many games would be enough? Manfred wouldn’t say.
“The exact number that we’ll see as reasonable is going to depend on when we get the go-ahead to play,” Manfred said. “I don’t have some absolute number in my mind that’s a make or break. I think we have to evaluate the situation. I also think that we need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the postseason format looks like.”
Clark added: “The players are open to having a discussion about just about everything. Obviously the calendar is going to dictate a lot of what can and cannot be done. But right now no door is closed.”