Because of the global coronavirus pandemic, no one knows how long the 2020 Major League Baseball will go or if one will even occur. Considering it’s all but certain that each team will play fewer than 162 games this year, there are naturally myriad questions that the league and the union are going to have to figure out, as Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic covered this week (subscription link).
So far, players’ service time is “the most contentious” issue MLB and the MLBPA are discussing, Rosenthal and Drellich hear. After all, how much service time a player accrues in a given season has a lasting effect on the future of him and his employer. The 2019 season featured 186 days (including off time), leaving a possible 172 days of service time for each player to amass. But it’s unknown how MLB will handle service time should a shortened season take place. In a worst-case scenario, there might not be a season at all.
Rosenthal and Drellich use the prominent example of Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts, who’s currently set to be at the forefront of next winter’s free-agent class. Under MLB’s current rules, Betts needs 102 more days of service to make it to the open market, though he and everyone else around the league may be fortunate to even rack up that many. So, it seems the league and the players must position themselves to draw up some other arrangement.
If no season happens, the union would still want each major leaguer to get a full year of service, Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets. Rosenthal reports differently, on the other hand, writing that the union will not seek a full season of service for every player if the 2020 campaign is canceled. Rather, in the event there is no 2020 season, the union has proposed for players who totaled a certain, unknown number of service days in 2019 to garner a full year. Joel Sherman of the New York Post backs up Rosenthal, though Sherman adds that the union’s hope is that everyone who tallied at least 60 days in 2019 will earn a full year of service time this year. The league countered with an offer of 130 days in 2020 or “that proportional service would be given” if there are fewer days this season, per Sherman. who notes that MLB is reluctant to offer a full year of service without an acceptable amount of games played or revenue collected.
Of course, as Rosenthal and Drellich detail, the length of a season has a direct effect on such issues as arbitration, vesting options and incentives. The present arbitration system hinges largely on a player’s ability to record counting stats (home runs, RBI, wins, saves and holds come to mind), but if there are fewer games, the sport may have to come up with a different arbitration method for at least next winter. Likewise, for those who have vesting options for 2021 and/or incentives baked into their contracts (plate appearances and games pitched, to name two examples), baseball might have to hammer out a solution that levels the playing field.
In addition to the aforementioned issues, it’s also in question how much money players will receive if there’s a truncated or canceled season. With America amid a national emergency, commissioner Rob Manfred has the right to withhold players’ salaries, but it doesn’t appear MLB is inclined to battle the MLBPA over money, Rosenthal and Drellich write, in part because it could damage the two sides’ relationship. That’s just about the last thing the game needs with serious negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement looming. The current CBA expires in December 2021.