We know that what is happening with the world with the coronavirus, which has shut down essentially all sports in America, is unprecedented. There is no history to look back on to figure out what happens next. Given that, there is a lot baseball has to figure out and the league has been in talks with the Players Union on pretty much a daily basis trying to figure out exactly what comes next. There are a lot of procedural issues to hammer out, including service time, player options, payments, and a whole lot more.
There is also the question of the draft. That had been scheduled to be held in June, but college and high school seasons have been cancelled as well. That, along with the fact that MLB has no money coming in for however long they are without games, could mean drastic effects for the draft as well as the international signing period, which is set to begin on July 2. According to a report from Ronald Blum of the AP, MLB is considering the possibility of cancelling the draft and pushing back that international signing period.
This would be a disaster, particularly for the young amateur players involved. For those in the draft, this is pushing back a major payday that the top prospects had certainly been counting on. This also would push down value for both the 2020 and 2021 draft, as the market would be more flooded and presumably there would be no changes to the 2021 rules. Top prospects from each class would suddenly have a whole other class with which to fight for position, and at the top of the draft in particular there is a significant difference between slots.
For international players, MLB has long neglected to prevent teams from unofficially agreeing to deals years in advance, meaning these players and their families, often from poor families in poor parts of the world, have been counting on these bonuses for years. This would be an extreme move and one that the league has to avoid at whatever cost possible. For what it’s worth, Carlos Collazo, who covers the draft for Baseball America, says cancelling the draft is far-fetched at this point.
Plum’s report also mentions other issues being discussed between the union and the league, including the issue of service time. This one is extremely complicated and I can’t pretend to have a good solution. On the one hand, I am naturally inclined to side with the players on any issue like this, and any lost service time for a player costs him big money and saves already rich owners money they need less than the players. Nobody’s age is freezing during all of this, so delaying free agency by a year for most players will have drastic effects. On the other hand, baseball is an entertainment business and fans losing star players a year earlier is not something that can just be ignored. Dodgers fans, for example, could miss out on seeing Mookie Betts at all. It’s not fair for Betts to have to wait another year for free agency, but it’s also not fair for fans or the Dodgers, really, to have traded for no baseball. My inclination, again, is to say they need to figure out a way to make this right for players, but it’s not a black and white kind of issue and given the unprecedented nature of all of this,
I have no idea what the right solution is. There are a lot of complicated decisions to make over the next couple of months, which is not ideal for a sport that was already getting set to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement that was expected to include contentious negotiations.