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Mookie Betts will be a free agent after 2020, whether there’s a season or not

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MLB and the players union reached agreement on salary and service time during the coronavirus shutdown

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

MLB owners got cost certainty, and players got guarantees on service time in negotiations on how Major League Baseball will proceed during the coronavirus pandemic. Amateur players, and quite possibly some minor league franchises, not so much.

But from a Dodgers perspective, this ends any speculation of what might happen should the 2020 season get cancelled. Mookie Betts is going to a free agent heading into 2021 whether or not there is baseball this season.

This was always the likely outcome for Betts, and several others. It wouldn’t have been fair to penalize players, who have a short window to earn their scratch, for circumstances out of their control. This agreement, agreed to by players on Thursday and approved by owners on Friday, simply formalizes the plan.

The agreement on service time, per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press:

If there are no games this year, anyone currently on a 40-man roster, 60-day injured list or an outright assignment to the minor leagues with a major league contract would receive 2020 service time equaling what the player accrued in 2019. If a partial season is played, service time would be the equivalent of what the player would have received over a full schedule.

For the Dodgers, that means Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, Kiké Hernandez, and Joc Pederson, all of whom have over five years but not quite six years major league service time, would be free agents after either a partial or no 2020 season. But the main player here is Betts, mostly because there is a non-zero chance that the Dodgers made a huge trade to get one of the small handful of best players in baseball and might not get to see him ever wear their uniform in a game that counts.

There is a long path to get to that point — specifically, the 2020 season would have to be canceled, and Betts would have to sign elsewhere as a free agent — but the possibility is real. I don’t really know if this materially changes how you might grade the trade — it’s best to go on the known information at the time of the deal — but that doesn’t mean it could potentially be a real downer for the Dodgers.

The players are also getting $170 million in advances during the current downtime. If the 2020 season is shortened, the remainder of their salaries will be prorated. If the season gets cancelled, the players get to keep the advances but won’t get paid everything else. That $170 million, which works out to a little more than four percent of total salaries gets broken down into four groups of players.

Again from the AP:

Advances will be determined based on a player’s current contract, designed to guarantee money to those at the bottom of the salary scale. Those with so-called split contracts whose salaries while in the minors are from $46,000 and $91,799 get $250 daily. Those at $91,800 to $149,999 receive $500 daily and those at $150,000 or more $1,000 daily. The remainder of the $170 million will be split among the rest of the players who want advances; each player has the right to opt out.

The cost

While the players and owners got their certainty in this deal, amateur players and potentially minor leaguers are the ones who pay a steep price. The next two drafts are altered considerably.

From Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic:

The agreement, however, gives baseball the right to shorten the draft from 40 rounds to five. Bonuses also will be deferred, with picks receiving an initial payment of $100,000 and getting the rest in equal amounts in 2021 and ’22. Non-drafted players can receive no more than $20,000, as opposed to $125,000 previously, before counting against a team’s allotment.

Another notable limitation: The signing-bonus values associated with each pick will remain at 2019 levels for the next two years. The bonuses typically rise by about 3 percent, based upon increases in industry revenues.

MLB can shorten the draft to as few as 20 rounds in 2021, per Jeff Passan at ESPN.

Five rounds is a tiny draft, and the $20,000 cap on bonuses for undrafted free agents is punitive to the player. The slot value for the Dodgers’ sixth-round pick, Aaron Ochsenbein, was $249,000, for instance, and he signed for $72,500. They signed 16 draft picks after the fifth round for more than $20,000 last year.

Fewer players coming into professional baseball has two main effects. The first is on college teams.

Also, having a smaller influx of players makes it more difficult to field lower-level minor league teams. Rookie-level Ogden is the usual first stop for several Dodgers draft picks, and they would have fewer players to choose from this year and next (and this is before noting that their season is set to begin on June 19, though that is certainly up in the air given the coronavirus, and MLB can hold the draft as late as July 20).

But then again, Ogden is one of 42 minor league teams on the potential cut list for MLB, whose working agreement with Minor League Baseball ends after 2020. Shortening the draft sure seems like a precursor of some sort of reduced minor league structure starting next season.