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If MLB season is canceled due to coronavirus, league is willing to give full service time to players

Jack Baer
Writer

As Major League Baseball waits to see if it will actually be able to play a season this year during the coronavirus pandemic, the league has made an interesting proposal for what to do in the worst-case scenario.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

If the 2020 season has to be canceled due to COVID-19, MLB has proposed that players will get the same amount of service time they earned in 2019, according to Ken Rosenthal. That plan would carry significant consequences for a number of teams.

Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown has confirmed the proposed plan.

Rosenthal added that the only players who would lose service time in a canceled season would be the prospects on track to make their MLB debut in 2020.

The agreement reportedly includes a pro-rated salary for players in a shortened season and a promise from the MLB Players Association to not sue for full salaries if the season is canceled.

The beginning of the MLB season was called off in mid-March, and the league has said the earliest it could theoretically restart is in mid-May. The threat of the coronavirus could still remain by then, though.

As the MLB season sits in limbo, how to handle service time for players is a major question. Service time determines when players may enter salary arbitration to receive a major raise and, more importantly, when they may enter free agency.

Rosenthal has already reported that MLB has agreed to grant a full year of service time to players in the event the 2020 season is shortened.

Which teams would lose the most under MLB’s proposed coronavirus plan?

If the 2020 season is indeed lost to the coronavirus, every team that spent significant resources to compete in the canceled season will basically have wasted those resources.

The biggest loser in that scenario would likely be the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team traded promising young outfielder Alex Verdugo and top-100 prospect Jeter Downs to the Boston Red Sox for former MVP Mookie Betts and former Cy Young winner David Price.

Betts is on track to reach free agency this winter, and giving him a full year of service time with no games played would mean the Dodgers gave up significant prospect capital just to watch Betts’ 23 spring training plate appearances.

Other teams that would lose big are:

  • The Minnesota Twins, who gave a four-year contract to the 34-year-old Josh Donaldson and a one-year contract to the 40-year-old Rich Hill.

  • The Cincinnati Reds, who handed out a number of major contracts to compete this year, including Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama.

  • The Cleveland Indians, who would lose one of the two years of team control they have left on superstar trade chip Francisco Lindor.

  • The Atlanta Braves, who signed Marcell Ozuna and Will Smith to high-salary contracts and would lose a year of their younger players.

Meanwhile, teams that had no plans to compete in 2020 and have many of their significant assets in the minors would lose relatively little. No one would really win in a canceled season, though, except for maybe the Red Sox.

Which players would lose the most under MLB’s proposed coronavirus plan?

One thing unclear in Rosenthal’s report is whether repeating 2019 service time will apply for players who made their debut in 2019, or simply moved between the majors and minors.

For example, Carter Kieboom is a top-100 prospect in the Washington Nationals’ system who made an abbreviated appearance in the majors last year and looked on his way to becoming the club’s starting third-baseman this year after Anthony Rendon’s departure.

If Kieboom repeats his 2019 service time, he could have to wait another year before he can hit free agency. Many other players are in that boat, and the players who moved between the majors and minors might not get credit for another option year either.

Meanwhile, players who were still in the minors would completely lose out on a year they could have spent accruing service time

Basically, this plan would not be great for young players, which should not be a surprise when MLB and the MLBPA come together on an agreement.