Getty Images

What will happen with player salaries? Contracts? Service time?

11 Comments

Last night the Associated Press reported that, among many other issues Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are dealing with at the moment, they are trying to figure out what to do about service time and scheduling and other logistical matters. While there are obviously more important matters facing the country at the moment, this stuff is pretty fascinating — and becomes pretty complicated — the more you think about it.

But let’s start easy. Will players be paid?

Players are not paid during spring training. They get per diems, but their contractually-specified salaries do not kick in until the season starts, which would’ve been Opening Day a week from now. I have not seen an official word on what will actually happen, but I am about 99.999% certain that players will not be paid.

It’s pretty straightforward, actually: the uniform player contract, which contains all of the boilerplate applicable to every player, specifically states that allows teams to suspend contracts during a “national emergency”:

President Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency on March 13, and Major League Baseball’s official statement suspending spring training and pushing back the start of the season specifically referenced the “national emergency.” If Trump hadn’t done that it would’ve been interesting to see if Rob Manfred could get an arbitrator to side with him and his ability to unilaterally declare a “national emergency,” but there’s no debating that we have one now, both legally and factually. The players will not be paid.

Service time is a bit more complicated. It’s possible that the league would argue that the “suspend the operation of the contract” language means that the passage of time, for contractual purposes, stops as well. That’d be pretty extreme. Of course we learned from the Associated Press last night that the union is suggesting that players should be given a full season of service time even if the season ends up getting canceled in its entirety. That’s the other extreme, but it’s an extreme that at least acknowledges that (a) the players aren’t getting any younger while the crisis goes on; and (b) payment, for most players, is directly tied to their age.

Playing this out against real life examples demonstrates how thorny this could get.

Take Kris Bryant, for instance. After losing a contentious arbitration over his service time, Bryant was to be entering his walk year in 2021 (he had sought for it to be after this season). If the entire season is canceled, and if Major League Baseball gets its way, Bryant will be controlled by the Cubs for yet another year, and he won’t hit free agency until he’s over 30. Talk about a massive swing in market value by virtue of (a) an arbitrator’s decision; and (b) a pandemic.

Or how about Mookie Betts? He’s also in his walk year, and because the Red Sox have decided to slash payroll, they traded him to Los Angeles. The Dodgers gave up a package of players for him. If 2020 counts as a season for service time purposes and Betts walks, the Dodgers gave up players for nothing in return. If it doesn’t count as a season, Betts’ free agency is pushed back, and he doesn’t hit free agency until he’s been in the bigs for eight years.

It’s not just the stars, of course. And it’s not the stars who will be hurt the most. They’re rich. Think about the guys who, because of a one-year delay, will fall short of ever reaching arbitration, which is the first time most players make real money. Think about the minor leaguers who don’t even get a shot because they have one more year on the odometer. Obviously the league and the union cannot negotiate the literal passage of time, but there are all manner of financial and contractual concerns that are tied to the passage of time which can play out differently depending on what the league and union agree to.

In the end, I suspect that we’ll see some agreement reached about what will constitute a “full season” for service time purposes, presuming at least some baseball is played in 2020. But how many games will that be?

Last week I wrote about shortened seasons of the past. The two most applicable ones would seem to be 1981, when the strike made the season into a 103-111 game affair (games played varied among teams), and 1994, when the season was stopped at between 112-117 games. Both of those were a “full season” for contractual purposes. Last night’s report said that MLB has suggested that anything below 130 games should only count for “proportional” service time, meaning that if Mookie Betts or someone like him played in a 125-game season, they wouldn’t hit free agency until after the 2021 season. You have to figure that’s a non-starter for the union.

Of course, like everything else in the world right now, we have no idea what’s really going to happen. It strikes me that MLB can withhold salary or stop service time, but it can’t do both. What actually happens, however, is a great unknown.

Washington Nationals roster and schedule for 2020

Nationals roster and schedule
Mark Brown/Getty Images
1 Comment

The 2020 season is now a 60-game dash, starting on July 23 and ending, hopefully, with a full-size postseason in October. Between now and the start of the season, we’ll be giving quick capsule previews of each team, reminding you of where things stood back in Spring Training and where they stand now as we embark on what is sure to be the strangest season in baseball history. First up: The Washington Nationals roster and schedule:

NATIONALS ROSTER (projected)

When the season opens on July 23-24, teams can sport rosters of up to 30 players, with a minimum of 25. Two weeks later, rosters must be reduced to 28 and then, two weeks after that, they must be reduced to 26. Teams will be permitted to add a 27th player for doubleheaders.

In light of that, there is a great degree of latitude for which specific players will break summer camp. For now, though, here are who we expect to be on the Nationals roster to begin the season:

Catchers:

Yan Gomes
Kurt Suzuki

Infielders:

Eric Thames
Starlin Castro
Carter Kieboom
Trea Turner
Howie Kendrick
Asdrúbal Cabrera

Outfielders:

Juan Soto
Victor Robles
Adam Eaton
Michael Taylor
Andrew Stevenson

Starters:

Max Scherzer
Steven Strasburg
Patrick Corbin
Aníbal Sánchez
Austin Voth
Erick Fedde

Relievers:

Sean Doolittle
Daniel Hudson
Will Harris
Tanner Rainey
Wander Suero
Hunter Strickland
Roenis Elías


BREAKDOWN:

The Nationals shocked the world last year, recovering from an abysmal start to the season to win an NL Wild Card before cutting through the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Astros to win the first championship in franchise history. While the roster is largely unchanged, there is one gaping void: the loss of third baseman Anthony Rendon, who signed with the Angels. Rendon, a perennial MVP candidate, led the majors with 126 doubles and the NL with 44 doubles while smacking 34 homers with a 1.010 OPS last season. He’ll be replaced by the young Carter Kieboom and the veteran Kendrick and Cabrera. Those are some large shoes to fill.

With Rendon out of the picture, Juan Soto becomes the crux of the Nationals’ offense. Last year, he tied Rendon with 34 homers while knocking in 110 runs. He also, impressively, drew 108 walks, by far the highest on the team. The Nationals will likely have to utilize their speed even more. Last year, Soto stole 12 bases while Adam Eaton swiped 15, Victor Robles 28, and Trea Turner 35.

As was the case in 2019, the pitching will be how the Nationals punch their ticket to the postseason. Max Scherzer finished third in Cy Young balloting, his seventh consecutive top-five finish. The club retained Stephen Strasburg and brings back Patrick Corbin as well. There really isn’t a better 1-2-3 in the game. The rotation will be rounded out by Aníbal Sánchez and one of Austin Voth or Erick Fedde, though both are likely to see starts during the season.

The back of the bullpen is led by closer Sean Doolittle, who posted an uncharacteristically high — for him — 4.05 ERA last year. He still saved 29 games and averaged better than a strikeout per inning, so they’re in good hands. Daniel Hudson and Will Harris will work the seventh and eighth innings leading up to Doolittle.

As mentioned in the Braves preview, it’s tough to make any definitive statements about a 60-game season. Variance is going to have much more of an effect than it would in a 162-game season. Additionally, the NL East is highly competitive. It would be wrong to say with any degree of confidence that the Nationals will win the NL East. For example, the updated PECOTA standings from Baseball Prospectus only project a five-game difference between first and last place in the NL East. What we can say is that the Nationals will give everyone a run for their money in 2020.

NATIONALS SCHEDULE:

Every team will play 60 games. Teams will be playing 40 games against their own division rivals and 20 interleague games against the corresponding geographic division from the other league. Six of the 20 interleague games will be “rivalry” games.

  • July 23, 25-26: vs. Yankees
  • July 27-28: vs. Blue Jays
  • July 29-30: @ Blue Jays
  • July 31-August 2: @ Marlins
  • August 4-5: vs. Mets
  • August 7-9: vs. Orioles
  • August 10-13: @ Mets
  • August 14-16: @ Orioles
  • August 17-19: @ Braves
  • August 21-24: vs. Marlins
  • August 25-27: vs. Phillies
  • August 28-30: @ Red Sox
  • August 31-September 3: @ Phillies
  • September 4-6: @ Braves
  • September 7-8: vs. Rays
  • September 10-13: vs. Braves
  • September 15-16: @ Rays
  • September 18-20: @ Marlins
  • September 21-23: vs. Phillies
  • September 24-27: vs. Mets

The entire Nationals schedule can be seen here.