While the national and world leaders are hammering out much more important issues regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, Major League Baseball and the Players Union have their own laundry list of problems to sort out. The potential for a shortened season, or a cancelled one in the worst-case scenario, leads to many complicated issues, none moreso than the matter of service time. The two sides have been talking quite a bit during all of this, and according to a report from Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN, they are moving closer to an agreement. The report indicates that they’d like to have these issues hammered out by the end of Wednesday. MLB’s regular season had been slated to start on Thursday.
First and foremost, while this is obvious, the league and the players both want to play as many games as possible. Right now there is an acknowledgement that they probably won’t be able to get the full 162 in, but they want to get as many games in as they can. According to the report, players are willing to play doubleheaders as often as twice a week to make that a reality.
The biggest issue on the table is, again, service time. The players had asked for a full year of service time in a shortened year, which the league had initially balked at. Passan and McDaniel, as well as Ken Rosenthal at the Athletic, are reporting that there has been a tentative agreement on that front. Assuming a season of some sort is played, it seems that players will earn service time on a prorated basis. In other words, if a player stays on the roster for the full season, however long that may end up being, they will get the full year of service time.
That being said, there is still no plan for what happens if there is no season at all. Like I said, both sides are extremely urgent about playing some sort of season in 2020, but we all know at this point there is a real possibility that this lasts throughout the summer and into early fall. This is causing a bit of an impasse at the negotiation table, and players like Mookie Betts are at the center of it. In any scenario, one side loses significantly. Either Betts loses by having an extra year before hitting free agency or a team like the Dodgers, and its fans, potentially lose by giving up significant value and not getting the player they had expected to suit up for them for the year.
There is a lot more in this report including potential start dates, payments for park employees and minor leaguers, plans for neutral sites and other contingencies. MLB and the players certainly have plenty to figure out, but it does at least seem like they are moving in the right direction.