It seems there’s still a good deal of confusion out there surrounding just what will happen to player contracts given the disruptions to the 2020 MLB season. We’ll do our best to explain the situation in this post, based upon what has been reported to this point.
In the wake of the suspension of Spring Training and the 2020 season, MLB and the MLB Players Association wisely engaged in immediate bargaining to address the massive and sudden changes to the expected state of affairs. The sides have already agreed upon modifications to the Basic Agreement governing league affairs. The full agreement hasn’t yet been released, but the key parameters are largely known (see here and here).
Numerous player salary determinations have been reached that do not specifically bear upon MLB contracts as typically covered here at MLBTR. The union has authorized stipends to certain players and the league has announced team payments to minor-league players. Other employees and contractors have also been addressed, if not fully accounted for on an ongoing basis: league staff, salaried team employees, and hourly employees. At least some teams have also provided some manner of financial assistance to independent contractors that have lost anticipated wages. There are numerous changes afoot to the 2020 amateur intake process (draft and international signings).
MLB Service Time
The key union bargaining priority, by all indication, was to preserve the anticipated player movement through arbitration and into free agency. That was secured in the aforementioned agreement, which assured players of the chance to accrue a full year of MLB service in 2020.
In the event of a shortened season, players will be awarded service time on a pro-rated basis. Players that accrue service for the entirety of the truncated campaign — those on the active roster and/or MLB injured list — would still get a full year of service. In the event of a canceled season, players will be credited MLB service in the same amount they accrued it in 2019.
The agreed-upon system is obviously far from a perfect approximation of what would theoretically have occurred had the 2020 campaign been played as planned (to the extent that can even be guessed at). But it does largely preserve what we’d have anticipated before the pandemic arose, at least in terms of the overall volume of service that will recognized. And while the distribution of service time will differ, it was surely necessary to utilize some sort of crude-but-objective mechanism.