We still don’t know when … or even if … the Major League Baseball season will begin. But a significant portion of the groundwork has been laid for what a truncated season might look like.
Negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association have led to agreements on several important issues that needed to be sorted out if the season is cut to fewer than 162 games, which looks more and more likely in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Both sides made concessions for this year because, as people who cover the game know, this is an unprecedented situation.
“It’s not going to set a tone for the future,” said MLB.com Padres reporter A.J. Cassavell. “It’s just going to be, how do we get baseball in 2020? How do we get back rolling to a sense of normalcy in the United States?”
We still don’t know when Opening Day will happen, although some time in June is looking likely, and we don’t know what that would mean for major events like the All-Star Game (scheduled for July at Dodger Stadium). Both MLB and the MLBPA say they want to play as many games as possible and say they’re open to pushing post-season games into November, even if that means holding games in cold weather cities in neutral sites.
No places were named specifically but one would have to think San Diego’s Petco Park and its average November high of 70 degrees would be in contention (assuming the Padres are not in the World Series themselves, of course).
The schedule will be determined when baseball and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are confident COVID-19 is no longer a threat to major gatherings. That means baseball will also have to figure out how long to allow big league teams to get back to a kind of “extended Spring Training” to get players who’ve been on hiatus back to game shape.
“You’re going to have to do some sort of ramping back up for players because they already kind of started to get there in Spring Training. I think some pitchers were really kind of close to being season-ready. Maybe not seven, eight, nine innings ready but just kind of ready to go out there. That almost gets reset a little bit so you’re going to have to have some sort of re-acclimation period where those guys are throwing,” said Cassavell.
One of the major agreements involves service time. Regardless of the length of the season all players currently on Major League rosters will receive a full year of service time. That’s significant because it means players like Mookie Betts, who the Padres tried to trade for before the Dodgers swooped in to grab him, will still be able to hit free agency and budding stars like San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack will be one step closer to arbitration and big paydays. Even if the season is canceled players will receive the same service time they did in 2019.
Players are typically paid only during the season and, since there is no season currently, MLB agreed to offer an advance on salaries through the season’s first two months.
Another major development is in the amateur ranks. Since there will be no college or high school baseball season in 2020 the league has the option to shortening the Draft to as few as five rounds (usually it lasts 40 rounds). The start of the international free agent signing period that usually comes in July could also be pushed back to as late as January of 2021.
This is very likely an advantage to teams like the Padres who already have a deep farm system and aren’t in the position of having to re-stock the organization with as much depth as possible.
However, it will also play havoc with current collegiate and high school players. Many draft-eligible collegians will likely have to return to school for another season while high schoolers who would have gotten a nice signing bonus as a 6th-10th round selection could end up going to a Division 1 school … or a junior college. Unlike the NCAA, which requires a player to either spent three years in school or be 21 years old before he can be drafted, players can spend just one season at a community college before being selected.
And there could be one more interesting development of a shortened season … what if everyone really likes it? That’s something I talked with Cassavell about: