Rob Manfred

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred confident an agreement with players will be reached

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred confident an agreement with players will be reached

Though MLB and the players' association are in the midst of a battle regarding 2020 player pay, commissioner Rob Manfred is confident the sides will reach an agreement, which would clear a major hurdle to having a 2020 season.

"Me personally, I have great confidence that we'll reach an agreement with the players' association — both that it's safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved," Manfred said on a CNN town hall Thursday night.

MLB owners approved a plan that would have the season begin in early July, provided enough testing is in place and public health officials have signed off on the parameters being sufficiently safe. There is still, however, the issue of player pay. The initial agreement guaranteed players a full year of service time, 4% of their 2020 salaries through the end of May, and then the prorated amount of their salary based on the number of games played this season. 

However, owners have sought a further reduction of the prorated pay because of the steep financial losses of playing out a season without fans in the stands. Ticket sales accounted for approximately $4-5 billion last season.

The players' association, led by executive director Tony Clark, has countered that the owners are taking advantage of the global pandemic to institute a salary cap with a proposed 50-50 revenue split.

"Playing in empty stadiums is not a great deal for us economically, but our owners are committed to doing that because they feel it's important that the game be back on the field, and that the game be a sign of a beginning to return to normalcy to American life the way we've always enjoyed it," Manfred said. "We're a big business, but we're a seasonal business, and unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of the low point in terms of us for revenue — we hadn't quite started our season yet. And if we don't play a season, the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion."

One of the major obstacles to playing out a season is having enough testing in place. Manfred on Thursday laid out the league's plans, which would include testing players and other baseball personnel multiple times per week. Anyone who shows coronavirus symptoms would be given more rapid testing. Manfred said the turnaround time is 24 hours. If you test positive, you will be quarantined until you test negative twice.

"Our experts are advising us that we don't need a 14-day quarantine," Manfred said. "What we will do is, the positive individual will be removed from the rest of the group. There will be a quarantine arrangement in each facility and in each city, and we'll do contact tracing for the individuals that we believe there was contact with, and we will do point-of-care testing for those individuals, to minimize the likelihood that there's been a spread.

"We hope that we will be able to convince the vast majority of our players that it's safe to return to work. The protocols for returning to play, the health-related protocols, are about 80 pages in length. They're extraordinarily detailed.

"So we hope that we'll be able to convince them that it's safe. At the end of the day, however, if there's a player with either health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never try to force them to come back to work. They can wait until they feel they're ready to come."

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What MLB's new deal with players' association means for Phillies

What MLB's new deal with players' association means for Phillies

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.

Service time

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. 

Lump-sum advance

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.

Transaction freeze

Rosters will be frozen beginning today. This is partially why the Phillies optioned six players to Triple A on Thursday.

Expanded rosters

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.

Playoff format

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.

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MLB has contacted Phillies about Bryce Harper's comments on Mike Trout

MLB has contacted Phillies about Bryce Harper's comments on Mike Trout

Updated: 5:31 p.m.

Major League Baseball is aware of Bryce Harper's comments Tuesday about Mike Trout and has reached out to the Phillies.

Clearly, the Angels weren't happy and Harper's going to get a little tutorial on baseball's definition of tampering.

There is no word yet on an official reprimand. It would be determined by commissioner Rob Manfred.

"They talked to me a little bit, not MLB or anything like that," Harper said after homering in a simulated game Wednesday. "When that time comes, when guys are free agents, we'll see what happens.

"If I didn't mean it, I wouldn't have said it."

Harper, at the very end of his interview with Jon Marks and Ike Reese on WIP's Afternoon Show Tuesday, said this about recruiting stars to Philly. He mentioned Trout by name, expanding on the hint he made at his intro Saturday.

"That's one thing about this contract that I'm able to do. Having 13 years in one place, I can help recruit guys to this organization," Harper said.

"For me, I can be able to talk to Trout or whoever it is, big-name free agent thinking about coming to Philly. I can say, 'Hey, this is the place to be. This is where the fans are great, ownership understands it, our manager is awesome.' I can really put that faith in myself and being able to say we're gonna go about it the right way, we're the Philadelphia Phillies and we want whoever wants to come to Philly. If you don't wanna come to Philly, then don't come, don't be a part of it. But if you want to be a part of a winning team, a winning culture, then we're gonna need the best players to do that and I don't think John (Middleton)'s scared to go out and get the best guys that we need to have.

It's respecting Mike Trout in a certain way during the season and letting him play and do the things he needs to do to of course be Mike Trout, but if you don't think I'm gonna call Mike Trout in 2020 to have him come to Philly, you're crazy.

Trout, too, was asked about this Wednesday. 

"Obviously I saw it," Trout told reporters in Arizona. "He’s excited. He’s excited about his team. I have no control what he says."

It was a pretty clear example of tampering, even though Harper was referring to the period after Trout is set for free agency.

There are a few recent examples of players hearing from the league about comments they made about guys on other teams.

Last spring, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge revealed to reporters that during a spring training game, he told Manny Machado that "You'd look pretty good in pinstripes, too."

Judge received a warning from MLB.

In 2016, David Ortiz openly lobbied for the late Jose Fernandez and DH Edwin Encarnacion to be Red Sox.

"I thought he was going to end up playing with me this year," Ortiz told the Boston Herald of Fernandez in the summer of '16. "I mean, you never know. I want him in my starting rotation. I mean, we need a little bit of help and hopefully that happens at some point, who knows?"

"The Red Sox know that they need to reinforce the middle of the lineup," Ortiz later said. "And sorry Blue Jays, but who better than Encarnacion to do that?"

The league reminded Ortiz of its tampering rules but did not fine him.

Harper was walking a fine line here. He's clearly excited about being a Phillie and the potential of luring other superstars to his new home. He probably knew that what he said Tuesday about Trout would earn him a slap on the wrist and also probably didn't care. His message to Trout and the rest of the league was clear. His words had the desired impact, and Harper can now put that on the back-burner while he focuses on 2019.

“Given our rules, players recruiting other players who are still under contract or under reserve to another club is a rule violation,” commissioner Manfred told the Associated Press. “So, obviously not anxious to see that.”

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