On the day the 2020 season would have started, major league players and owners struck a deal that provided a critical objective for each side in the event the season is called off entirely.
The trade is this: If the season is canceled, the players agree to accept a small percentage of their 2020 salaries in exchange for service time as if the whole season had been played.
If the season is not played, Mookie Betts can leave the Dodgers without ever playing a game for them.
Owners and players hope to play a shortened season, once the public health threat recedes from the coronavirus crisis. The owners would like to expand the playoff format this year — the better to maximize television revenue, and to try out such a format with an eye toward the future — and the players agreed to negotiate on the specifics.
Scheduling considerations — the number of doubleheaders, whether to waive rules that restrict playing on more than 20 consecutive days, and so on — also were left for negotiation.
But what was agreed on — ratified by players in a conference call Thursday and expected to be approved by owners Friday — addresses how players would be paid and credited for this season.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, commissioner Rob Manfred can suspend contracts during a time of “national emergency.” President Trump has declared a national emergency.
The players agreed to an advance of $170 million — less than 4% of their total salaries in a full season — and prorated salaries for whatever portion of the season is played. If the season is canceled, the players keep the advance but cannot sue for the remainder of their salaries.
In exchange, and again in the event of a canceled season, owners agreed to credit players that earned a full year of service time last year with a full year of service time this year.
At a time when industry revenues have risen but salaries have not, that distinction was critical. After three years of service, players are eligible for arbitration, meaning their team can no longer unilaterally determine their salary. With six years of service, players are eligible for free agency.
That guaranteed year of service ensures Betts will pass the six-year threshold this year. When the Dodgers traded for him last month, they said they intended to pursue a long-term contract with him.
In the event of a shortened season, players who spend all of it in the majors or on the injured list would be credited with a full year of service.
The agreement also gives major league owners significant leverage in their ongoing negotiations with minor league owners. Under the agreement, major league owners have the right to shorten the draft to five rounds this year and 20 rounds next year, although undrafted players can be signed.
The contract between major league owners and minor league owners expires this fall.
Major league owners have proposed eliminating 42 minor league teams, arguing in part that the overwhelming number of drafted players never make it to the major leagues and that a stripped-down minor league system would enable better facilities and better salaries for players with the best chance of making the big leagues.
Eliminating the later rounds of the draft would limit the number of minor leaguers under contract to major league teams. Without a contract that obligates major league teams to supply players, minor league teams could be forced into independent leagues in which they would have to pay players.