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Despite coronavirus shutdown, players will retain service time in agreement with MLB

The Dodgers' Mookie Betts is among the players who still will be free agents at the end of the season.
The Dodgers' Mookie Betts is among the players who still will be free agents at the end of the season.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

While the anticipated start of the 2020 season came and went without games played as baseball remained shuttered amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association came to an agreement on Thursday about the economic rules that will govern a shortened season.

According to multiple industry sources, the league and its players reached an agreement that is expected to be finalized and announced on Friday. The deal does not specify the length of the season — something impossible to do given the unknown course that the coronavirus will take — but the sides have a shared interest in playing as many games as possible this season, with the possibilities of extending the season (and playing games at neutral sites), committing to doubleheaders, and early-season games without fansall in play to maximize the length of the schedule.

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Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN on Thursday his "optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we’ll be gearing back up” for games, but the players and league also recognize the possibility that a season may prove impossible to commence this year. For that reason, according to the Associated Press, the deal ensures that even if no season is played, all players who are currently on the 40-man roster, the 60-day injured list, or on an outright assignment to the minor leagues with a major league contract would receive service time equaling what that player was credited with in 2019.

Players like Mookie Betts and George Springer could become free agents sooner than anticipated if the 2020 season is called off.
Players like Mookie Betts and George Springer could become free agents sooner than anticipated if the 2020 season is called off.David J. Phillip

That agreement ensures that Mookie Betts and other players who were slated to hit free agency after the 2020 season will still do so. If a partial season is played, major league service time would be multiplied to what a player would have accumulated over a full season.

Owners will advance players $170 million for April and May, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. That money is expected to be distributed chiefly to players on the lower end of baseball’s salary scale. If there is no season, players would keep that advance but sacrifice their salaries for the coming year. If there is a shortened season, salaries would be prorated based on the length of the season.

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According to a major league source, the luxury tax threshold of $208 million will remain unchanged. Players’ full-season salaries (rather than the prorated amount they’re actually paid) will be used to determine the amount that they count toward the threshold.

MLB has the right to shorten the 2020 draft to as few as five rounds and could delay the draft from June 10-12 to late July, with owners gaining the right to defer bonus payments into subsequent years. Recommended signing bonuses for picks are expected to be kept at 2019 levels. Signing bonuses for undrafted players will be capped at $20,000. MLB also has the right to delay the start of the international amateur signing period from its typical date of July 2 to as late as January 15. Those moves would limit the expenses of baseball operations departments during the coming season, when revenues will take a hit due to the schedule alterations.

According to multiple reports, the players have already approved the agreement. Owners are expected to do the same via conference call on Friday, thus establishing the potential ground rules for a season — even at a time when it remains unclear when or if games will actually be played in 2020.

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Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.