MLB and the players' association finalized a deal Friday that affects service time, the draft, salaries, the 2020 schedule and more.
Let's go piece by piece.
When will the season begin?
"Not until there are no bans on mass gatherings that limit the ability to play in front of fans and no travel restrictions," according to ESPN.
This runs counter to the idea that games could take place in empty stadiums.
An early-June start to the regular season still seems like a best-case scenario.
This was the main sticking point for players. They needed to know that they would be credited with a full year of service time even in the event of a canceled season. A canceled season is not viewed as the likelihood at this point but all bases needed to be covered.
Players will receive a full year of service time no matter if the season is 120, 162 or zero games. The days of service credited to a player will be the same number he received in 2019. For someone like Rhys Hoskins, it will mean a full year of service time. For someone like Ranger Suarez, who wasn't called up until the first week of June in 2019, it will reflect closer to a half-season's worth of service time.
Why is this important? Because service time determines eligibility for free agency and arbitration. It wouldn't have been fair to make J.T. Realmuto wait another year for free agency because of circumstances outside his control. Nor would it have been fair to delay Hoskins' three arbitration years, which begin after the 2020 season.
Service time was the most important point for major-league players because there is so much to be gained financially by accruing another year.
2020 MLB draft
The league can limit the 2020 MLB draft to five rounds if it so chooses. Much less scouting can even be done this spring, but this looks like a cost-cutting measure. Signing bonuses to draftees will be deferred. According to The Athletic, draftees will receive $100,000 up front with the rest deferred to 2021 and 2022 in equal amounts.
Signing bonuses for drafted players will stay at 2019 levels rather than rise by 3-3.5% annually the way they tend to.
For an undrafted player, the richest signing bonus a team can give is $20,000 compared to $125,000 previously. This clearly hurts younger players trying to break into the bigs over the next year.
As if cutting the MLB draft from 40 to 5 isn’t disgusting. Limiting guys who didn’t get drafted to 20k signing bonus is the biggest pouring salt in the wound I’ve ever heard of.— Micah Johnson (@Micah_Johnson3) March 27, 2020
I was an 9th round pick. At the time, that money changed me and my families life.
If the 2020 season never takes place, players waived their right to sue the league for full salaries in exchange for an advance payment of $170 million.
This $170 million will be distributed to four tiers of players and most of it will go to players on guaranteed major-league deals.
The amount a player is advanced would come out of his prorated 2020 salary if/when games begin.
Rosters will be frozen beginning today. This is partially why the Phillies optioned six players to Triple A on Thursday.
Rosters were already set to expand from 25 to 26 this season. Now, rosters will expand to 29 for the first month of the 2020 regular season, according to USA Today.
All teams will need more arms as starting pitchers build back up. This is good news for players battling for bench or bullpen jobs. It makes it more likely that all three of Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison and Neil Walker make the team. There is still much to be decided in the bullpen. Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter could be ready for the new season opener.
Regular season length
Still TBD. The regular season will certainly extend into October and the playoffs could continue until late November. Neutral sites would likely need to be used if cold-weather, outdoor teams advance that far. You could potentially see a Cardinals-Yankees World Series played in Tampa.
A way to recoup some of the lost money from the shortened season is to expand the playoff field, which was likely to happen even before the coronavirus outbreak. Currently, 10 teams make the playoffs, with two in each league competing in the one-game wild-card round. MLB could expand to 12 or 14 playoff teams, which would drastically change the regular season and be an obvious benefit to a team like the Phillies.