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MLB, players union continue to discuss service time, salary for an altered 2020 season

Mookie Betts is set to be a free agent after the 2020 season, but what the 2020 season is remains to be seen

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Los Angeles Angels v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

As the originally planned opening day approaches, Major League Baseball and the players association continue to negotiate details on exactly how a shortened season might play out, logistically, on a number of fronts.

We had some questions nearly two weeks ago when both sides began negotiating, just after spring training was canceled, chief among them service time.

Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic reported “MLB has agreed to grant a full year of service to players who remain active for the entire 2020 season regardless of how many games the schedule includes.”

Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel at ESPN had slightly different wording, but basically the same gist: “Should the sides reach an agreement — the season was due to start Thursday, and the sides have targeted Wednesday as a deadline — players probably would receive full service time if a championship season is played.”

A normal season lasts 186 days, and a player needs 172 days to accrue a full season. Mookie Betts, set to be the biggest prize on next winter’s free agent market, is used as an example in both reports, but several Dodgers are approaching six full years of service time, which would grant them free agency:

  • Betts: 5 years, 70 days
  • Blake Treinen: 5 years, 65 days
  • Pedro Baez: 5 years, 59 days
  • Kiké Hernandez: 5 years, 54 days
  • Joc Pederson: 5 years, 28 days

With at least five years of service time, none of these players could be sent to the minors without their consent, in case you were wondering about any shenanigans afoot. But it still remains to be seen how service time for the rest of the players would be calculated. Gavin Lux, for instance, has 28 days of major league service time, and it’s entirely reasonable he might spend at least some time in the minors in 2020. Does everyone else’s service time get prorated? That’s probably still being discussed.

Both The Athletic and ESPN reports noted that both sides have agreed to set aside, for now, talks on what happens if the entire 2020 season gets wiped out. Considering such a decision wouldn’t come for a few months anyway, that seems apt.

There is the matter of pay as well. Rosenthal reported that players’ salaries would be pro-rated depending on the length of the season. Both The Athletic and ESPN reported MLB offered an advance of over $150 million for players on 40-man rosters. That works out to an average of over $125,000 per player, though Passan and McDaniel reported the advance is split into four tiers:

  • “First-time players on the 40-man roster” (for the Dodgers, this would include Victor Gonzalez, Luke Raley, Zach McKinstry, Mitchell White, and DJ Peters)
  • “Players with low-salary split contracts who earn different amounts depending on whether they are in the minor leagues or major leagues” (think Will Smith, Matt Beaty, Edwin Rios, Walker Buehler, and others here)
  • “players with higher-salary split deals” (not entirely sure here, but probably someone like Scott Alexander fits in this category)
  • “players with guaranteed major league deals”

As we noted before, the commissioner under the collective bargaining agreement has the power to suspend contracts because the country is in a national emergency. The clause itself is paragraph 11 of the uniform player’s contract:

This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action, now or hereafter in effect respecting military, naval, air or other governmental service, which may directly or indirectly affect the Player, Club or the League and subject also to the right of the Commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.

Though both The Athletic and ESPN report that Rob Manfred doesn’t appear to want that tack. As Passan and McDaniel put it, “MLB has not shown an appetite to invoke it.”

On the lower end of baseball’s totem pole, Passan and McDaniel note that payments to minor league players is among the items being discussed by the MLBPA and MLB. Last week, MLB agreed to pay minor league players spring training allowances (a reported $400 per week) through April 8.

Also on the table, per ESPN: “Receiving assurances from teams that non-player employees will receive paychecks through at least April, with cost-cutting measures a possibility come May.”

That last point was relevant this week in other sports. On Monday a report surfaced that the 76ers were cutting all staff salaries of at least $50,000 by 20 percent, but after significant public backlash the team reversed course and agreed to keep paying its employees their full salaries. The NHL, meanwhile, is going forward with its plan to cut pay of league employees by 25 percent starting April 1.