The commissioner’s office and the Players Association are ebbing closer to an agreement that will decide items such as service time and how players will be paid while MLB is not playing games due to the coronavirus.
MLB was expected to deliver a counterproposal sometime Wednesday with the hope that will be one of the last volleys back and forth toward reaching an agreement. The sides have been in near-constant communications trying to finalize details before what would have been Opening Day on Thursday. It is possible that they will extend the clock to Friday because of a growing sense they are so close and that MLB and its teams plan to acknowledge the loss of an unofficial national holiday on Thursday.
The big sticking point involves the doomsday scenario if no games are played this year. The union wants a way for players still to accrue service time even if 2020 goes dark because players’ careers are finite and not graduating to the next service group that determines items such as arbitration and free-agency eligibility is viewed as devastating to them. Conversely, MLB does not want to grant service time if no games are played and, thus, no revenue comes in.
The sides are in agreement that if there is a shortened season in 2020, a player will gain full service time if they are on an active roster or injured list for the full season and get a percentage based on how much they are active if not. In a standard season, a player needs 172 active days to count as a full season. Thus, if the season were just 125 days, under the currently accepted understanding, players would get the full service if they are active all 125 days.
The current plan calls for MLB to provide a lump payment sum that it would provide the union for April and then May to distribute to its 40-man roster players however the union determined. As of now, MLB has decided to jointly keep all internal employees on the books through at least April 30. As for minor league players, MLB intends to address salary in some fashion, but is waiting for finalization of a package with the union so it has a better idea of finances to distribute to minor leaguers, who are not represented by the Players Association.
In addition, the sides are trying to determine if and in what form to hold a draft this season. High school and college games have been cancelled, leaving nothing to scout in real time, and teams without revenue coming in are not anxious to start paying bonuses in June to drafted players or in July to international players. There are formats being discussed to push the draft back, have fewer rounds and perhaps distribute signing bonuses over longer periods of time rather than immediately.
The sides also continue to talk broadly about scheduling, recognizing it is fluid depending on when and if games can resume and in what locales. The sides have agreed to try to play as many regular-season games as possible, recognizing that likely means expanding (especially at the beginning of a season) the rosters above the current 26, playing doubleheaders with some frequency, eliminating off days when possible, playing in neutral sites if home locales still will not permit mass gatherings and moving the postseason into November and even December.
But one issue that will become pertinent if MLB does try to move the season into November and December is the ability to reach agreement with networks such as Fox, Turner and ESPN on how to televise games. The expectation is that other leagues and sports also are going to try to fill the calendar with either regularly scheduled games — like the NFL in November and December — or move league or major sports events involving golf and tennis into a crowded fall calendar. Thus, MLB could not be sure — for example — that it could have three straight nights on any one network in November or December to show the World Series.