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Coronavirus Implications in the MLB: Service Time, Draft, and More Explained

Over the course of the last few days, Major League Baseball has taken charge in trying to determine what they will do in case of a cancelled season. As the days move on, it seems more and more likely there will not be a 2020 season. 

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed to a deal on Thursday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported. There were many different components that the MLB and the Players Association agreed on, and they all will be extremely impactful:

1. Service Time

The Players Association put an emphasis on service time and wanted to make sure that it would come into effect with the agreement. During a normal season, there are 172 days that could be accumulated. To bulk up your service time, you have to be on the active 26-man roster. 

For example, Pete Alonso was on the New York Mets Opening Day roster in 2019 and played the entire season, so his service time is exactly one year. With the likelihood of a shortened season, there won’t be 172 days to be accumulated for, so the MLB and the Players Association agreed on terms for two different scenarios. 

1. If the season is shortened:

If the MLB season was shortened, the league would take care of the service time issue by prorating it. For example, if the MLB season is 120 days long and a player is active for 60 of those days, he will accumulate 50% service time for the 2020 season. In comparison, that is like being active for 86 days during a regular season.

2. If the season is cancelled:

If the MLB suspends the entire season, the players would still get service time for this year. They would get this by giving a player the service time they received in 2019. If a player only got half of a year’s service time in 2019, they would get the same in 2020. 

For example, Mookie Betts spent the entire 2019 season active for the Boston Red Sox. His service time would be duplicated for the 2020 season. In that scenario, Betts would become a free agent this winter. With another year of service time under his belt, he would be granted free agency. This could mean the Dodgers gave up Jeter Downs and Alex Verdugo for absolutely nothing.

This would also grant players like Cody Bellinger (2023-24) and Gleyber Torres (2024-25) an additional year under their belt to keep them on track for their free agency years.

When talking about how all the MLB players will be paid, it’s still incredibly unclear how the minor leaguers will be treated. It’s a fluid situation as of right now, but it still hasn’t been made public if the minor leagues will be paid or not, and if they are, when?

2. The MLB Draft

The MLB Draft is not talked about as much as the NBA and the NFL Drafts are. It’s simply because the players that get drafted aren’t playing for a Major League team for multiple years, and most of them never even make it.

During a normal year, the MLB has 40 rounds in their draft. This means that over 1,200 players are selected each year. An additional approximate 200 are signed as undrafted players following the draft. It was announced on Friday that in 2020 there will only be five rounds. Subsequently, this eliminates 1,050 selections, and it will end many players’ careers.

With the inability to see players play for their high schools and colleges this year, the MLB limited the amount of selections, but, the real story is that the changes caused by the Coronavirus pandemic may result in minor league teams being eliminated.

In November, Bill Madden released an article stating that Manfred planned on eliminating 42 of the 160 minor league teams (26%). With the elimination of these draft selections, there will be a significant decrease in players that will be playing minor league baseball this summer, if it is even played at all, and we’ve only spoken about the draft so far.

Typically, on July 2nd every year the MLB opens up their international signing period to teams. Players from the Dominican Republic and other foreign countries are eligible to sign with teams once they turn 16. This year, there is the possibility of pushing back the signing period to early January 2021 also eliminating players from entering the professional system. Passan also noted that the MLB can shorten the Draft to 20 rounds for 2021.

3. When will the season start? What will happen once it does?

Nobody knows when sports will resume, but what we do know, at least from the MLB, is what it will take to resume. 

It’s going to take all three requirements in order for baseball to resume. Passan later added on Twitter, “The caveat agreed to by the players and league is that they will consider playing games at neutral sites instead of home ballparks — and will consider the feasibility of playing in empty stadiums and just how proper a solution it may be for both sides and especially fans.”

Jon Heyman brought up the possibility that the MLB may be expanding the playoffs from 10 to 14 teams. In an article posted by the New York Post in February, the idea of expanding the playoffs was already in motion. It was noted that the MLB is “seriously weighing a move” from 10 playoff teams to 14, but it was clear that it wouldn’t be a possibility until the earliest 2022.

On the contrary, with the challenges being posed now with a shortened season, expanding the playoffs would allow for greater revenue in the later months. Heyman said that “best-case could be a late May start. Hope is still for about 140 games.” This would lead to the regular season being played into mid-October and the Playoffs/World Series “well into November.” 

If this would happen, there would also be a possibility that playoff games in colder areas, such as New York, would be moved to a warmer area, like Florida, to be played at a neutral site. At present, there is no indication that America’s favorite pastime will be cleared to begin anytime soon. In the meantime – we wait.

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