How Reported Agreement Between MLB, MLBPA Affects Yankees in 2020 and Beyond

Max Goodman

On the day that was supposed to include Opening Day festivities, the baseball world was provided with a dose of clarity regarding Major League Baseball's next steps during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Per Jeff Passan of ESPN, MLB and the MLBPA came to an agreement Thursday regarding how service time will be handled in case of a shortened season.

Much of the deal was anchored in economic priorities. Players agreed to pro-rated salaries in case the 2020 regular season is trimmed due to the novel coronavirus. If the season is canceled completely, players will split an advance of $170 million, sent out for the months of April and May.

In all likelihood – in an absolute best-case scenario – the earliest baseball could resume is in June or July. Opening Day is presently postponed a total of eight weeks, in accordance with recommendations issued by the CDC. 

On Friday, Passan revealed that players and the league agreed to continue postponing the season until mass gatherings are permitted and medical experts deem that games won't pose any health risks to teams and their fans.

No matter how optimistic an individual you are, it's important to stay realistic. The chances of a full 162-game season look bleaker by the day as the coronavirus has continued to spread. Therefore, the league and players will be forced to react to a shortened schedule, potentially an adjusted playoff format to accommodate regular season games stretching through the month of October and games played deep into the postseason at neutral sites.

For a World Series front-runner like New York, the prospect of shrinking the season down and potentially playing home games away from fans in the Bronx certainly isn't ideal. But when considering the doomsday scenario of the entire season being canceled, it gets worse.

If the 2020 season does not happen, due to these unprecedented circumstances, players will receive service time. That means, players who are up for free agency in 2021 will proceed as though the 2020 season occurred, entering the free agent market in November.

This directly impacts clubs like the Dodgers the most. Los Angeles traded for Mookie Betts knowing his contract was up at the end of this season. They did so hoping he would re-sign and stick around, of course, but at the very least knew they were acquiring the star player for one full season. 

Now, in this feasible situation, Betts could sign elsewhere starting this November and not play a single game in a Dodgers uniform.

On the Yankees, multiple key contributors are eligible to enter free agency after the 2020 season. DJ LeMahieu, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are each in the final year of their respective contracts with the club.

Earlier this spring, LeMahieu – who finished fourth in the race for American League MVP in 2019 – revealed that he would love to stay in New York moving forward but that the Yankees have yet to reach out regarding a possible extension.

Further, 2020 is the second and final year of J.A. Happ's agreement with the Bombers. The only way to trigger his vested option for a third year – barring contractual reconstruction – is to pitch 165 innings or make 27 starts. With a shortened season at the least, that seems impractical.

Sure, extensions can be agreed upon. Transactions are frozen until the union and the league agree on a date they can resume, but eventually New York may choose to negotiate with any or all of these players. However, there is a credible possibility that LeMahieu – for instance – could never play in a Yankees uniform again. 

Puts this whole situation into perspective, doesn't it?

Either way – without even getting into the impact this agreement has on this year's MLB Draft – time is always precious when it comes to contractual agreements. 

Even for the younger players still in arbitration, there's only so many seasons before players are eligible for free agency or reach a point where they can increase their salaries. From a financial standpoint, and on the basis of personnel on the field, certain players removing a year from their contracts has the potential, in certain situations, to change a franchise's trajectory.

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