Teams can take advantage of players’ service time during the pandemic

Nate Pearson
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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MLB owners and the MLB Players Association already had labor tension even before the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport in March and forced drawn-out negotiations over a reformed 2020 season during the last two months. One of the more prominent pre-pandemic issues was the manipulation of players’ service time by front offices. In recent memory, Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed grievances against the Cubs and Phillies, respectively. Other players — including Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Eloy Jiménez — have had their service time obviously manipulated but nothing came of it.

Craig mentioned last week that teams were offering undrafted free agents contracts that begin in 2021 instead of this year, which slows the clock on the players’ eligibility for the Rule 5 draft and for minor league free agency. There are even more ways teams will take advantage of service time, even during a pandemic.

Eireann Dolan, wife of Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, refuted a report from Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports in which he said that players who cohabitate with “high risk” people would be able to opt out of playing while still receiving pay and service time. Players, in fact, won’t be paid or receive service time if they choose to opt out because of those with whom they cohabitate. Only the players themselves who are considered “high risk” can opt out and still receive pay and service time, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich. It is on the individual teams to be “accommodating” to players with “high risk” family. Thus, those players — such as Doolittle — have to choose between protecting their families during a pandemic, and getting paid and receiving service time.

Furthermore, ESPN’s Jeff Passan appeared on Sportsnet’s Writer’s Bloc podcast. He mentioned that teams can continue to manipulate service time during the 60-game season. As an example, he said that the Blue Jays could hold pitching prospect Nate Pearson (pictured) in the minors for just the first seven days of the season in order to get an extra year of contractual control.

Teams will also be able to take advantage of “taxi squads,” a small group of players who work out and travel with the team. Those “taxi squad” players are not on the active roster and, until they are, are paid their meager minor league salary and do not receive service time. It is possible that, during a pandemic, a player travels with his team all season but gets zero service time and zero major league pay. These players are pressured into taking on responsibility and risk for very little reward just to enhance their future job prospects.

The upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations should be fun. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2021.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.