Detroit — There is still no real way of knowing when the 2020 baseball season will start, but after an agreement was reached Thursday night between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association, we have a better idea of what it will look like once the coronavirus relents.
A vote by team owners ratified the agreement on Friday.
The two sides agreed to play as many games as possible, with the regular season extending into October, playing weekly scheduled doubleheaders and expanding the playoff format to 14 teams with the option of moving playoff games to neutral, warm-weather sites.
The sides agreed, also, that games won't resume until there are no bans on mass gatherings that limit the ability to play in front of fans, no travel restrictions and medical experts determine games won't pose a risk to the health of teams and fans.
Once the agreement was ratified Friday, all rosters were frozen.
"Starting off, we understand the challenges that so many in our country are facing in these times," said Matthew Boyd, Tigers player rep. "We are praying for all those affected and the health and safety of everyone, especially our heath care workers working long hours selflessly serving those who need attention most.
"We as players are happy with the agreement. Through negotiations, we as a fraternity of players were united, from our senior members down to the youngest. It was great hearing the perspectives of everyone through this process."
One of the major concerns for the Tigers, of course, was what would happen to the draft, since for the second time in three years they own the first overall pick. The two sides agreed to keep the draft, but it’s going to be cut to five rounds (instead of 40) and possibly pushed back into July.
Signing bonuses will be deferred over three years. Players drafted in 2020 will get up to $100,000 of their signing bonus. Then teams will pay 50 percent of the bonus in 2021 and the final 50 percent in 2022. Salary slots for drafted players will be frozen at 2019 levels. The first overall pick this year will be slotted at $8.4 million instead of $8.7 million — a 3.5 percent cut.
This has rankled agent Scott Boras, who is representing projected No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson in this draft.
“It is amazing to me when our nation is in a position of peril, that one of the attack points always continues to be the poor drafted players,” Boras told USA Today. “For owners to do this to these young men, who are so passionate about baseball, is something that they need to examine their conscious.’’
The league and players’ association, though, argued that all sides are taking a financial hit during this crisis and a 3.5-percent hit is relatively small in context.
Undrafted players will be limited to a $20,000 ceiling on signing bonuses.
“More kids will have to go to (college),’’ Boras told USA Today. “And anyone not taken among the top 200 players will have to go back to school.
The international draft is expected to be pushed back to January.
Teams will not be allowed to trade draft picks or international money for two years.
In addition, there has been discussion about holding scouting combines before the draft this year and next year.
Among the other issues agreed to:
►Service time: If there is a season of any substantial length, players would be credited for a full 162-game year. If the season is canceled, they will receive the same service time they earned in 2019.
"We understand the importance of service time in our game," Boyd said. "We as a union are committed to preserving it for our generation as well as the next one."
►Salary: Teams will pay players on 40-man rosters a lump sum of $170 million up front, based on a service-time driven sliding scale. First paychecks are due April 15. If the season resumes, players would be paid on a pro-rated scale based on how many games get played.
►Schedule: Though nobody knows for sure, the hope is the season can start June 1, and no later than July 1. The season would start with where the original schedule was at that point. The Tigers would be in Oakland on June 2.
The players will have final approval on scheduling, but the sides agreed to try to play as many games as possible. The agreement opens up 31 potential dates for regular-season games in October.
The sides also discussed the cancellation of the All-Star Game.
Optimistically, the hope is a 140-game scheduled could be salvaged if teams could report for a second spring training in mid-to-late May. Most likely, clubs will train at their home ballparks to save money. Also, as Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire alluded to in a conference call on Tuesday, rosters are expected to be expanded to 29 players.