Following a more than two-hour long conference call of player reps and other players Thursday, the union overwhelmingly voted to approve a deal with MLB to cover a variety of key issues — none more vital than gaining service time concessions even if no games are played in 2020.
MLB owners are scheduled to have a noon conference call Friday to ratify the deal. That is expected to be a formality because the Commissioners Office received the key element it was seeking to limit financial exposure.
Owners will make a $170 million payment to 40-man roster players covering April and May. If the season is played at some point, that payment will work as an advance on future salaries. If no season is played, the players keep that $170 million, but owners do not have to pay any more of the roughly $4 billion in 2020 salary to players, and players cannot sue for those salaries.
What was not covered in this framework was how to handle regular-season scheduling, the All-Star Game and the postseason beyond an agreement to work in good faith on all these matters and to try to play as many regular-season games as possible, while keeping player health and safety at the forefront.
Without a firm idea when the league will be given the all-clear to play, what cities will allow it, whether travel between cities will be unimpeded and if crowds will be allowed back, the sides agreed to table those discussions to deal with economic issues that had to be dealt with in real time. The regular season had been scheduled to begin Thursday and, thus, a period when players would be paid had started.
Reaching an agreement was paramount — the sides did not want to be seen battling over dollars when such economic hardship is befalling the country during the pandemic. So they reached a governing agreement with these key points:
— For the union, the biggest goal was to get service time for players even under the worst scenario — zero games played this season. Under the tentative agreement, players will receive the same service time in 2020 that they did in 2019 if no games are contested.
In a career in which seasons played are finite and precious, this was vital to players. Betts, Realmuto, Bauer, Paxton and Stroman make up the best of the players due to be free agents after a normal 2020 season. Now, they will be even if there are no games.
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Players also will gain full service if they are active or on the injured list for a season of any length. Normally, a player is credited with a full service year with 172 days active or on the major league injured list. So if a season is 90 days and the player is active or on the IL for all 90, he would be credited as if he had 172 days. It is prorated beyond that — so a player active for 45 of the 90 days would get half of 172 days (86 days).
— The owners received the cost certainty of not paying salaries beyond the first $170 million if there are no games. Plus, they received further savings because MLB can make the draft as few as five rounds, limiting how much in bonuses will have to be paid out. In addition, those bonuses can be paid over a longer term than right away.
The commissioner can push the draft, scheduled for the second week in June, to as late as July 20. There also is a cap of a $20,000 bonus for any non-drafted player signed.
— A transaction freeze was put in place. That is why you have seen teams optioning players to the minors in recent days in anticipation of this. Until a future date — likely when there is clarity about when games will be played again — there will be no options, trades, signings, etc.