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MLB, MLBPA reach agreement on 2020 season details

Globe Life Field February 2020

A deal between MLB and the MLB Players Association brings a higher level of certainty to the sport in the midst of a very uncertain year already heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The deal, agreed to last night by MLB players and expected to be approved this morning by owners per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, covers a wide range of issues facing the sport in uncertain times. While it may be a little optimistic that players can return for another round of spring training in mid-May with games resuming in June (perhaps with no fans in the stands), this agreement provides a framework that provides some predictability during uncertain times. Here are some highlights:

  • While there’s no guarantee that there will be a 2020 regular season—that will depend on how well the coronavirus pandemic is contained—the two sides agreed on what could happen in a shortened campaign, giving MLB the option to extend regular-season games in October, schedule November playoff and World Series games at neutral sites (think domes, think California and Texas and Florida), and pack the schedule with doubleheaders, perhaps with the seven-inning formats used in Minor League Baseball and college baseball.
  • In a move that impacts the minor leagues and perhaps college baseball, the 2020 draft could be shortened to only five rounds and moved to July, with a 2021 draft potentially shortened to 20 rounds. A draft of only 20 rounds has been part of the discussions of the Professional Baseball Agreement with the National Association, as MLB has been pushing the elimination of Short Season A and Rookie leagues and pushing a narrative that 40 MiLB teams will probably fold anyway die to financial issues created by the coronavirus pandemic—a view not widely shared in the MiLB world, based on our ongoing discussions with owners. Player development is a baseball issue currently in chaos. Some MLB front-office folks are argued against a draft at all in order to concentrate on the players already in the system: Tulsa Drillers manager Scott Hennessey warns that the promising Dodgers players on his team may not get the work they need to develop if the MiLB season is seriously curtailed. And with the elimination of college and high-school seasons across the country, the analysts say they don’t have the data to make informed draft choices. The NCAA has not yet announced whether players would receive an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 college season was scrapped, though a decision is due Monday. A complicating factor is that some high-profile college players have been in discussions to play this season with independent teams immediately and not waiting for a draft.
  • Players will receive credit for a full season of service, even if the season is scrapped. Players scheduled to be free agents in November will retain that status even if the season is canceled.
  • MLB will advance players $170 million, to be divided up by the MLBPA. That advance will be applied to player salaries once the season starts. The union, on their part, agreed not to sue MLB for salaries should the 2020 season not happen.

There is still so much up in the air regarding the 2020 season, and there’s still a feeling that plenty of struggles remain on the financial front. But this agreement provides a level of certainty on the player side.

Photo of Globe Life Field, which had been scheduled to open its baseball history on Tuesday, courtesy Texas Rangers.

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