Plenty more twists and turns are expected for the 2020 Major League Baseball season, including the possibility of the plan being scrapped entirely.
Players like San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis, and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price have already opted out of the season. There could be more players to make such a decision.
As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal pointed out last week, some players could opt out of the season later in the year. Players who are deemed high-risk can opt out while receiving their full salary and service time, while also being able to request an opt-in later in the year. Players who are not high-risk can opt out too but forfeit their service time, salary, and ability to return for the regular- and post-season.
For some players, playing a certain amount of the season is key, with the potential to reach service time benchmarks and then opt out. This will be the case more so for teams who fall out of the playoff hunt early, which may be harder to do in such a shortened season.
For example, Rosenthal cites the cases of Houston Astros outfielder George Springer, and former Cleveland hurler Trevor Bauer as being early opt-out candidates. The pair are two and five prorated days short of free agency eligibility, respectively.
During a normal season, players can accrue a full service-year by being on an active roster or injured list for 172 days. A normal season takes place in around 187 days. Whereas the 2020 season will take place over 68 days, a fully pro-rated service year will be 62.5 days, making each day worth about 2.7 days.
That number is about in line with Rosenthal’s, as Bauer is 14 days shy, making 5 days in 2020 worth a prorated 13.5. Bauer essentially needs to make one start before opting out and beginning his promise of consecutive one-year deals in free agency.
So, who are some of the late opt-out risks for Cleveland?
As it often does, the conversation starts with Francisco Lindor, not because he is the closest to reaching his service time goal, but because he has the most to lose by missing it. Lindor currently sits at four years, 113 days of service time, putting him 22 days shy of guaranteeing his final year of arbitration for 2021.
Lindor would hit his fifth full-year of service time on Friday, August 14, giving opposing teams just over two weeks to figure out potential trade proposals for a year of the shortstop’s services. The player could almost guarantee his stay in Cleveland for a few months by opting out of the rest of the season between the 14th and 31st.
Catcher Sandy León sits just over 10 prorated days from hitting free agency for the first time. Going into his age 32 season next year as a backup catcher, it might not behoove him to opt out early, should he feel safe with the league’s protocols.
Second baseman César Hernández could be subject to arbitration following his one-year deal in Cleveland should he not hit his six-year service time, which would take all of a week to accrue.
Players like José Ramírez and Roberto Perez have not hit their six-year marks but had their final arbitration years bought out by guaranteed contracts. Domingo Santana, non-tendered by the Seattle Mariners in the off-season, is two service years short of free agency but has a club option for 2021.
It would seem unlikely that any of these players opt out before a playoff berth seems lost, but the security of each player, their family, and the league’s non-bubble will matter. Nobody should blame a player for securing his paycheck and then getting out of harm’s way.
Outfielder Delino DeShields has become a special case, already having contracted the virus, and being placed on the 10-day injured list shortly after joining the team in Cleveland. DeShields sits 23 prorated days shy of qualifying for his final year of arbitration in 2021, but his 2020 has already been so chaotic that it may not be worth sticking around. That of course depends on if he could remain on the IL for longer, and how likely he feels he is to contract the virus again.
The chaos is not over for the 2020 baseball season, and the variables for each team are vast. Each team’s ability to contend through the 60-game season could be very dependent on how the first 20 games go. Not just to hang with division leaders, but also to retain their players.