By Bob Nightengale
Major League Baseball and the Major League Players Association reached an agreement on key economic issues in hopes of salvaging the majority of the 162-game season, even if it means playing the World Series in late November.
Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously to ratify the union agreement on Friday.
The deal includes a commitment from MLB and the players to play as close to a full regular-season schedule as possible, with games in October and a postseason in November, 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, with the hopes of playing as many as possible, 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.
The biggest issue in the negotiations was service time, and the two sides agreed 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. And if the season is canceled, players will receive the same service time they accrued in 2019.
This means that Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star outfielder Mookie Betts, who was acquired along with former Cy Young winner David Price in February from the Boston Red Sox, could be a free agent without playing a single regular-season game for the Dodgers.
The two sides also have decided to still have an amateur draft this summer, although it will be reduced to five rounds instead of the usual 40 rounds, according to The Athletic. The players will no longer get their signing bonuses up-front, and it instead will be deferred, which ESPN first reported, paying 10% now and 45% percent in the following two years.
Teams have also pledged to pay players on 40-man rosters a lump sum of at $170 million in upfront money, based on a sliding scale with service time. Players are scheduled to receive their first paychecks on April 15, and if the season resumes, they 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 of 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.
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.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale.