If we get any baseball in 2020, which is still very much an open question, the season is going to be much different than any we’ve ever seen before. That’s not just because of the fact it will be considerably shorter. Last night, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the League and the Player’s Association agreed to a new deal that will dictate the terms of the 2020 season.
As expected, the agreement has implications for the Major League season as well as major ramifications for the MiLB system as well. I broke this up into two main parts: a bird’s-eye view what it entails and then, this being a Yankee blog, its impact on the team we all care about too much. *Deep breath* Let’s get right into this one.
An Overview of the Agreement
Passan wrote up the agreement today over at ESPN.com, which you can see in full here. I do my best to break it all down in a clear and concise manner here, broken into the two relevant components: the conditions and the impact on the game.
It’s important to note, though, that it’s a conditional agreement. The season will not begin until the following conditions are met:
- There are no bans on “mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans”;
- There are no travel restrictions in place in the U.S. or in Canada; and,
- It is medically safe for players, fans, or staff.
Those are three very prudent, wise, and commendable provisions. They are clearly taking the COVID-19 threat seriously, which is important: a single soccer match in Italy is linked to a mass outbreak. However, it does not bode well for professional baseball in 2020, that’s for sure. I think we all need to recognize that there is a very real chance that there is no season this year.
The good news is that there is an out. The commissioner and the union can consider “the use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible.” Games played in empty stadiums in neutral sites feels like the most likely outcome at this point. It sure feels like this – no matter how logistically challenging it will be – will be possible before all three of the above conditions are met. I’m no doctor nor a public health expert but that’s just my sense, based on everything I’m reading, as of right now. We’ll have to see.
If that’s what happens, it will be weird and unusual, but you know what? I’ll still watch and cheer on the Yanks. I bet you will too – which is exactly why I expect that this will happen. Some TV revenue and no gate is sure as hell better than no TV revenue and no gate. So, yeah.
What it Means for the Game
Anyway, with all of that out of the way, here’s a bulleted list of what we know so far, most of which tracks with what we knew on Wednesday:
- Players are guaranteed a full year of service time even if the season is cancelled;
- There will be a complete transaction freeze (no trades, signings, and roster moves), but MiLB players are still able to lose their jobs;
- The union will not sue for complete salaries;
- The league will pay $170 million in advance payment to players, which will be divided among players among four classes, with those with guaranteed MLB contracts getting top priority;
- The arbitration system is being reworked to account for a shorter season;
- Both sides are open to playing into November (which means regular season games in October);
- The draft is being moved from June to July, though may be shortened to as few as five rounds;
- The draft allotment didn’t increase, and drafted players will only receive up to $100,000 in 2020, with the rest of their bonus delayed until July 2021 and ’22;
- Teams cannot trade draft picks or international bonus money;
- The 2020 international signing period can be delayed, with the latest period stretching from Jan. 1, 2021 to December 15, 2021; and,
- Drug suspensions will be for 2020 only, so players will be eligible to return in 2021.
So, that is a lot, obviously. There’s still a bit of fluidity over the situation and they’re even considering expanding the playoff pool from 10 to 14 teams. A lot will happen between now and getting on the field, that’s for sure.
There are a two top-line takeaways from all of this, though. The first is that this is a good sign: the service time issue was obviously the biggest obstacle, so it’s good to see the two sides reach an agreement there. (It’s weird to consider that Mookie Betts may become a free agent without ever suiting up for the Dodgers, but I like this agreement.) There is also still one more major obstacle, as it leaves undetermined what happens if a player tests positive. That happened today in Japan and will be inevitable here, too. This is a major one, but we will cross that bridge when we get there.
As Passan and others have noted, this clears a major hurdle. We’re a step closer to real baseball, in a way, than we were yesterday. Still, though, there are worries with the agreement. Baseball-Prospectus’ Craig Goldstein outlined those very well here; check that out for more details.
The second is that this deal leaves MiLB players, high school and college prospects, and MiLB teams out to dry. Bonuses are smaller and are also delayed. The draft is shorter. Short-season and rookie ball level teams may get contracted as a result. The Player’s Association, which does not represent MiLB players, sacrificed them to reach a deal here. That’s just the way it is. No use denying it.
Impact on the Yankees
So that’s the deal and what it says for now. It’s obviously pretty incomplete and more will come as we learn more about the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact. For now, though, there’s a lot to say about how this impacts the Yanks, even beyond what I wrote the other day. I’m sure there are other implications than these, but here’s a good start:
1. Making the Playoffs Got Easier: The Yankees should have been a playoff team anyway, but the road to October got a lot easier if the pool is expanded to 14 teams. Even in the craziness of a 60-game schedule, it’s very hard to imagine the Yankees missing the playoffs in this scenario. (That’s especially true given the fact that the team should be healthy again by the new Opening Day.) Hooray for that!
2. Luis Severino Misses Fewer Games Now: I joked about this on Twitter, but given the conditions outlined above, there’s a chance that this season just doesn’t happen at all. That would mean that Luis Severino, who went under the knife a few weeks ago, would miss very few MLB games with Tommy John. It’ll be like the injury and surgery never even happened!Silver linings, folks. We gotta look for them in these dark times.
3. Neutral Site Games: If the league moves to neutral site games, the Yankees will lose their considerable home field advantage. The Yankees are really, really good in the Bronx. Since the team’s 2017 renaissance, there have been 243 regular season games played in the Boogie Down. The Yanks have won 161 of them for a .663 winning percentage. That’s a 107-win pace over a normal 162-game season, which is very good. I’m sure the Yankees will be fine no matter where they play, but losing home field for a season would be a blow for the Yanks. No doubt about it.
4. Service Time and the Yankees: The biggest impact this will have is definitely on the players, especially those who are set to become (or could become) free agents after this season. That list includes:
- James Paxton: The 31-year-old lefty is set to become a free agent for the first time after this season. It’s hard to know what effect a shutdown or delay will have on his free agency, but I doubt it helps. That’s especially true if the season is canceled. It’s hard to imagine a favorable market for him considering his age, injury history, and the fact that he won’t be able to build off his second-half success last year. This would also be an unfortunate resolution to this trade from the Yankees’ side.
- Masahiro Tanaka: The thought of Tanaka never throwing another pitch for the Yankees after Game 4 of the ALCS last year simply makes me too sad to seriously consider, but it’s a distinct possibility now. I always thought a marriage between the two sides was the most likely outcome, but now. it feels even more likely. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Tanaka in pinstripes.
- DJ LeMahieu: DJ is a very weird case now, especially if the season doesn’t happen. He’ll be a free agent after his career year…but a whole year will have passed in between. He’d be one of the most fascinating cases to watch from an intellectual point of view.
- Giancarlo Stanton: It was unlikely anyway, but it’s almost impossible to imagine Stanton opting out now, no matter what happens in the season. Virtually no scenario imaginable now – even if he dominates – in which Stanton is not a Yankee for the duration of this contract.
- Brett Gardner: This could be the end for Gardner. There’s now a real chance that we never get to give the longest-tenured Yank a proper send-off.
- Zack Britton: He’s another weird case. Britton was very good in 2018 and 2019, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30. Who knows what his market will be like?
5. Domingo Germán’s Suspension: According to Joel Sherman, Germán will have to serve the remaining 63 games of the suspension this year. I imagine that clock starts ticking once the season resumes. If it doesn’t happen at all, the league will count the suspension as served. So that’s interesting.
6. Short-Season MiLB Teams: This could be the end of the Staten Island Yankees and Pulaski Yankees. JJ Cooper has a pretty good explanation why:
Remember, these teams exist in a state of uncertainty right now anyway. The new system now represents an existential threat for these teams. It’s too bad. I hope this is not the end of the line for these guys.
7. International Signing Period/Slots: Finally, not being able to acquire new international signing money really hurts the Yanks, who have used international free agency to fill out their farm system. They’e also made numerous trades to acquire more space – remember the Adam Warren trade? – and signed major free agents like Jasson Dominguez in this period. This new agreement removes a major tool from the Yankees’ toolbox.