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MLB owners, players agree to deal to preserve service time if season is canceled

A pedestrian walks a running track while wearing

A pedestrian walks a running track while wearing a surgical mask near Yankee Stadium as it remains closed due to COVID-19 concerns, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York.  Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Under MLB’s doomsday scenario, if the entire 2020 season is canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak, a handful of Yankees and Mets already may have played their last games while calling New York home.

Per Friday’s agreement between MLB and the union, if the season is wiped out, players on 40-man rosters and the injured list still will be credited with a full year of service time.

On the Yankees’ side, that means DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka would be granted free agency. Same goes for Marcus Stroman and Yoenis Cespedes with the Mets.

The question of how to handle service time was perhaps the biggest item on the coronavirus-related agenda. If some part of the season can be salvaged — and commissioner Rob Manfred is hoping for a May restart — then service time will be calculated on a prorated model depending on the percentage of games played.

“Service time was the focal point,” union chief Tony Clark said Friday night on a conference call. “Preserving service time in our system, under all circumstances, and how important a loss of service time would have been, and how it would have affected every player. Not just the guys that are playing but those that are coming next.”

As for salaries as a whole, MLB agreed to advance the players $170 million over the first 60 days of the original schedule, which basically covers them through the end of May. According to standard contract language, salaries can be suspended during a national emergency, so the players conceded as a hedge against a season’s worth of lost wages. Overall, player salaries this season were expected to amount to $4 billion, according to The Associated Press.

On the subject of performance bonuses, as in Cespedes’ contract that includes $17.5 million tied to incentives, the stat totals required to activate them will be reduced by the percentage of 162 games played by that team.

If the season does resume, the Yankees’ Domingo German still must serve the remaining 63 games of his 81-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. The penalty would not carry over into 2021.

Less straightforward was the framework for re-starting the season. Manfred has stated that “everything is on the table” in an effort to work with a shrinking period of time, including a multitude of doubleheaders, perhaps with seven-inning games. But MLB and the union can commit to keeping an open mind on creative alterations — such as neutral sites and extending the playoffs deep into November — only as long as they fit into the medical guidelines set forth by the CDC.

That means MLB has to operate within the parameters of rules set forth on mass gatherings and travel, along with figuring out the risk posed to players and spectators. The two sides did not rule out playing in empty stadiums, if necessary, but intend to review that scenario at a later date, the preference being to have fans in the building.

MLB has not decided on a date for the amateur draft, which was scheduled for June, but Friday’s pact gave leeway to scale the event back to as few as five rounds for this year and next while freezing the signing bonuses at 2019 levels. Also, the international signing period can be delayed from July 2 of this year until Jan. 15 of 2021. Adjusting both of these systems is likely to have lasting implications for the minor leagues, with plans already underway to trim teams as well as other reductions.

“Players want to play — that’s what they do,” Clark said. “And being able to get back on the field, and being able to play — even if that means their fans are watching at home. Being able to play for their fans is something they’ve all expressed a desire to do. And to do so as soon as possible.”

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