COVID 19 Roundup: A Partial Service Time Accord

This is the latest installment of a daily series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

As I write this, the total confirmed cases of COVID-19 has blown past the 400,000 threshold globally and currently stands at just over 420,000, with a hair under 19,000 deaths. What’s unknown at this point is how many are actually new cases and how many are just now being detected because of the continued expansion of testing. That’s probably going to be a job for the historians, and hopefully, a task that as many of us as possible are around to look at.

It could obviously come undone due to someone balking or a certain someone with a poor filter posting on Twitter, but it appears that the Senate and White House have agreed on a $2 trillion stimulus package. While it’s not directly baseball or even sports-related, sports need an economy to return to, hopefully sometime later this summer. The bill’s expanded unemployment coverage won’t help minor leaguers, but at least it may help fill in some of the gaps the people who are part of the sports economy but aren’t beneficiaries of some of the aid packages given by teams and leagues.

Some Service Time Questions Answered

We’ve talked a lot about service time and we’re necessarily going to continue to do so; it’s a massive ingredient in baseball’s revenue recipe. The tireless Ken Rosenthal reported in the witching hours that the MLBPA and MLB have a partial agreement on some of the outstanding service time issues. If there is in fact baseball in 2020, it appears players will still be credited with their full service time, no matter the total number of games played:

The players do not want their service time reduced by a shortened season, knowing it would impede their ability to reach salary arbitration and free agency as quickly as possible. MLB has agreed to grant a full year of service to players who remain active for the entire 2020 season regardless of how many games the schedule includes, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The two sides have agreed to table discussions on how much service time the players would receive if the COVID-19 crisis results in the worst-case scenario for baseball, the cancellation of the entire season. Both sides desire to play as many games as possible in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, there has been no agreement on what happens if there is no 2020 season, a significantly bigger financial question:

Clauses in the collective bargaining agreement and uniform player’s contract give commissioner Rob Manfred the right to withhold salary in a state of national emergency, which President Trump declared on March 13. But the league has not taken that aggressive a stance, offering a lump-sum advance of more than $150 million earlier in the talks, which breaks down to more than $125,000 for each player on a 40-man roster, sources said.

Tommy John Surgeries Become Controversial

With two very high-profile baseball players — Chris Sale and Noah Syndergaard — requiring Tommy John surgery, it’s almost impossible to avoid questions of medical ethics given the magnitude of effects the novel coronavirus outbreak has had on hospital resources. Even though these are private hospitals not likely to be using resources such as ventilators to any great degree, it does feel a bit French Revolution-y to have pitchers receiving elective arm surgery when most people will have trouble getting their own elective surgeries, and medical resources are otherwise stretched so thin.

Baseball’s Olympic Return Delayed

The Summer Olympics were officially delayed until 2021, the first time the Olympics have ever been postponed — the other three Olympics with disruptions (caused by World Wars) were outright canceled. For baseball, this means another year until its return to the Games. Baseball has a rather spotty Olympic history; it was an exhibition sport seven times (as early as 1912) before becoming a medaled sport in 1992. Baseball was dropped for the 2012 Summer Olympics, in part due to the IOC’s frustration that MLB had little willingness to let its best players participate. I’m torn about baseball as an Olympic sport — I think the World Baseball Classic is more interesting — but more baseball is always good. Especially now, when many of us would probably happily sit and watch a 22-inning game between the Orioles and Tigers.

Red Sox Minor Leaguer Tests Positive

The Red Sox have announced that one of their minor leaguers tested positive for COVID-19. The player, whose identity has not been revealed, is believed to have contracted the virus after leaving training camp on March 15. Still, as a precautionary measure, players and coaches who were in contact with the player will be self-quarantining for two weeks. Fenway South in Fort Myers will also be closed for a full cleaning.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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2 years ago

I am sure they are aware that there need to be more details on the service time thing. For instance, you could maybe option a guy to AAA to start the year and bring him up less than a week into the season – much like teams do now when they wait 2 or 3 weeks – and he hasn’t been on the 25 man roster for “the entire season.”

Also, I believe that Tommy John surgery is done under general anesthesia, which uses a ventilator which could be used for critically ill people if needed. While it won’t take up a hospital bed (outpatient procedure) and the highly specialized orthopedic surgeon probably isn’t good for much in an epidemic, other people involved in the care of that patient could be used elsewhere. Surgical nurses are also specialized, but not so much that they couldn’t care for patients in other areas in a pinch. If hospitals get to the point where they can not staff medical floors or ICU’s and do not have enough equipment, there are real, practical, reasons to cancel elective procedures beyond just bad optics.

2 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

Outside of the Marlins with Ozuna a few years ago, not a lot of instances of manipulation that involved established major leaguers.

And a shorter season makes the more traditional manipulation probably more painful as you’d think you are giving up a larger percentage of the season to keep a player down. And if there ever were a time to disincentivize manipulation, it would be coming off of this. I could see an agreement where players with no service time (I.e. non-members) can’t get a full year of service time regardless. That, in return, for veterans getting more benefit.

2 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

Yes but usually, sending a guy down for 2 weeks only saves 2 weeks of service time. If the season is only 80 games, then sending a guy down for 2 weeks could save 15 weeks of service time, which is a lot more tempting for teams. This depends on how they adjust accrual for players that don’t play the entire season, which I assume will be some type of prorated thing, like 1 actual day on 25 man roster provides 2 days of official service time.

2 years ago
Reply to  Rotoholic

Ah, good point. I’d hope that they don’t let that happen. Just say that the missed days count for all players who fit a certain criteria off the bat. And if there is a half season, everyday for other players (new players) count as two.