Finalized MLB-MLBPA deal underlines challenges ahead of 2020 season

Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays hits his first Major League home run during the eighth inning of a game against the Kansas City Royals. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

TORONTO – The now finalized deal struck between Major League Baseball owners and players on the 2020 season is going to benefit some more than others, and the invested parties are all parsing through the details trying to determine who gets what.

Most pertinent, however, are the considerations for the resumption of play the sides agreed to, which govern when and if there is a 2020 season. The specifics include:

• The removal of government restrictions that prevent games in front of spectators (stay at home orders, restrictions on mass gatherings);

• An absence of travel restrictions;

• Advice from medical experts;

• Considering games with no fans and the use of neutral sites, even outside of MLB cities if those locations are safe and economically feasible, as a way to cover the possibility of some clubs being able to resume while others are not.

That’s a demanding slate of conditions and underlines how much depends on efforts in the United States, in particular, and Canada successfully bending the COVID-19 pandemic’s infection curve. If people don’t heed the advice of health officials – Americans, looking in your direction here, although some hosers need to do better, too – the June/July restart targets being floated among industry partners have no chance of coming to fruition.

Before we get there, discussions about the 2020 schedule are to begin immediately, and the sides will kick around an accelerated spring training schedule, split doubleheaders, expanded rosters, the potential elimination of the all-star game and extending the season into October. A one-time change to the post-season format is to be considered, as well.

Everything is on the table to try and get the most out of this season, if allowed to happen.

All the continuing uncertainty essentially makes the economic elements of the agreement interim arrangements, with one agent interpreting the protection of service time – the union’s top priority – at the expense of wages a long-term hedge against the possibility of no games in 2020.

Similarly, teams protect themselves from the potential legal entanglements of refusing to pay anything for contracts by committing $170 million over 60 days beginning April 3 into an advance pool to be distributed to players in four different tiers.

• Players on straight contracts with no minor-league split with get approximately $5,000 a day;

• Players with a guaranteed contract and a minor-league split salary of $150,000 or higher get $1,000 a day;

• Players with a guaranteed contract and a minor-league split salary from $91,800 to $149,999.99 get $500 a day;

• And players with a guaranteed contract and a minor-league split salary from $46,000 to $91,799.99 get $275 a day.

Salaries will be pro-rated if a 2020 season does take place, with the advances counting against a player’s earnings.

That’s a give on the player end, but the critical return is in service time, with players able to earn a full season of service regardless of the length of any potential 2020 season. The formula for calculating service time take the days a player accumulates in 2020 and multiplies it by 186 divided by the number of days in the campaign.

If the season is cancelled, players will receive a match of their 2019 credit, which notably for the Toronto Blue Jays means Bo Bichette, who collected only 63 days last year, still wouldn’t be at a full-year and therefore still six full seasons away from free agency.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (157) and Cavan Biggio (129) would both end up a year-plus, and five years away from the open market.

On the flip side, closer Ken Giles will be eligible for free agency in the fall whether or not he throws another pitch for the Blue Jays, and after an elbow injury killed a deal for him at the trade deadline, that would be an unfortunate go-to-zero for the asset.

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Still, the more substantial impact on the Blue Jays, who hold the fifth overall pick, will come in amendments to the draft, which Major League Baseball had initially sought to cancel. Both the 2020 and ’21 drafts may be delayed up until July 20, with the potential of shortening this year’s edition to as few as five rounds and next year’s session to as few as 20 rounds.

Fewer rounds means fewer selections, which means the Blue Jays will have fewer opportunities to leverage selecting so high up the board, along with the bigger spending pool afforded them. Signing bonus pools will remain at 2019 levels for the next two drafts, which means slot for the fifth overall pick alone will remain $6,180,700.

That’s a lot of cake at a time teams are generating virtually no revenue, which is why teams will be able to defer the payments of signing bonuses, with up to $100,000 payable within 30 days, 50 per cent due by July 1, 2021 and the remainder due July 1, 2022 for players selected this year, with the same payment schedule for players picked in 2022.

The international bonus pools will also remain unchanged in each of the next two years.

The agreement, reached Thursday, was approved by upwards of 100 players on a conference call later that night, while owners signed off Friday. It’s a framework that covers the worst-case scenario, while creating pathways for the sides to collectively work towards more optimistic outcomes amid a pandemic that will ultimately decide what is and isn’t possible.


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