In other words, to use one prominent example, it is possible Mookie Betts, the former MVP right fielder the Boston Red Sox traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last month, may never appear in a regular season game for the Dodgers. Betts, 27, is one year away from reaching free agency, and the deal struck Thursday night guarantees he will get there by the end of 2020 even if there is no baseball this season.
“Service time was the focal point” for the players, MLB Players Association chief Tony Clark said. “Preserving service time in our system under all circumstances.”
The deal came together after about two weeks of negotiations between MLB and the union and was completed near the end of what would have been baseball’s Opening Day. The sport was shut down March 12, when Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended spring training and announced a two-week delay to the start of the regular season with the coronavirus threat becoming increasingly dire.
That delay now will extend through at least the end of May, and while baseball still hopes to play a shortened season and postseason in 2020, there is some concern the continued spread of the virus could lead to the cancellation of the season.
As part of the deal, the Athletic reported, owners will advance the players $170 million to cover salaries through May but would not have to pay further if there is no season, and the union also agreed not to sue for lost salaries.
Meanwhile, the deal gives MLB the leeway to shorten the amateur draft from 40 rounds to as few as five and shift it from June to July.
The sides did not reach an agreement on the terms of a shortened spring training if there is a 2020 season or the intricacies of constructing a schedule. However, the sides have discussed playing doubleheaders and reducing the number of days off as a way to squeeze more games into a shortened schedule, and those talks are expected to continue.
ESPN reported Friday that the sides agreed the 2020 season would not start until travel restrictions were lifted and the medical and scientific community agreed the games would not pose a health risk to players or fans. The sides also agreed to consider the feasibility of playing at neutral sites in less affected areas or in empty stadiums if bans on mass gatherings prohibit home games with fans.
“Players want to play. That’s what they do,” Clark said. “Even if that means their fans are watching at home. ... We remain as optimistic as we can be that we’ll be able to play as many games as possible.”