Major League Baseball and the players union are close to reaching an agreement on critical economic issues with hopes of salvaging the majority of the 162-game season, according to an MLB executive with knowledge of the negotiations, even if it means playing the World Series in late November.
The executive spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
The deal, which could be announced as early as Thursday — when opening day was originally scheduled — would include a commitment from MLB and the players to play close to a full regular-season schedule as possible, providing the COVID-19 crisis dissipates and permits them to even start a season.
The two sides would like to play at least 100 games, scheduling regular-season games through October and including weekly doubleheaders. They have also discussed the idea of expanding the current playoff format to help offset the loss of income, while acknowledging that if cold weather becomes an issue in November, they could move the World Series and playoff series from cold-weather cities to a neutral site.
Mr. November: Derek Jeter of the Yankees. (Photo: Roberto Borea, AP)
The biggest issue in negotiations has been service time, which is close to reaching a resolution for a truncated season. The two sides are near agreement that if there’s a season of any length, players would receive credit for a full year as if it was a regular 162-game season, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said.
This would permit players such as Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star outfielder Mookie Betts, and marquee starting pitchers Trevor Bauer of the Cincinnati Reds and Marcus Stroman of the New York Mets, to still achieve free agency after the 2020 season. In turn, it would provide teams clarity with players on long-term contracts, who don’t want bloated contracts on their books longer than necessary.
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They have yet to reach an agreement on whether players would still be credited a full year or partial year if the entire season was cancelled. Betts has five years and 70 days of major-league service time, and is 102 days shy of becoming a free agent. Could he become a free agent without playing a single game for the Dodgers? And if no service time was provided for a lost season, would the Detroit Tigers now be paying Miguel Cabrera $32 million annually through 2024, when he’ll be 41 years old?
Teams have also pledged to pay players on 40-man rosters a lump sum of $150 million in upfront money in April, which The Athletic first reported, which would average about $125,000 per player, based on a sliding scale with players’ contracts. Players are scheduled to receive their first paychecks on April 15, and if the season resumes, would be paid on a pro-rated scale based on how many games are played.
In the meantime, clubs have also promised their full-time employees that they will continue to receive their salary through April 30 with no layoffs. Yet, several employees say they have received a warning letter from their club, which gives a 60-day notice on potential mass layoffs.
Major League Baseball’s best hope is to start the season around June 1, and no later than July 1, simply picking up the original schedule when it resumes, but are following the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Once teams are given permission to start working out again, it’s quite possible that instead having their teams return to their spring-training sites for a minimum of two weeks, players will work out at their team’s own home ballparks, reducing further expenses, and expediting the start before the new opening day. Teams likely will open the season with expanded rosters for the first month as well, and instead of having 26-man rosters, increasing to as many as 30 players.
It remains unknown how long Major League Baseball and the union would be willing to play with no fans permitted in the stands, how they would adjust the unplayed schedule to make it equitable for all teams, if there’ll still be an amateur draft or truncated version, and how minor leaguers will be paid.
Those questions can wait, but for now the two sides are hoping to make an announcement on what was scheduled to be the opening day of the 2020 season that they have reached an agreement on several critical economic issues, and praying there still will be an opening day sometime this summer.
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