COVID-19 Roundup: MLB Furloughs Accelerate

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

The Rent-is-Too-Damn-High Team

The Oakland A’s and the county stadium authority are in a dispute over ballpark rent. This isn’t the first time there’s been such a dispute at the stadium sometimes known as the Oakland Coliseum. In 2014, the lease-extension negotiations between the A’s and the county stadium authority broke down over a dispute over withheld payments. The Oakland Raiders also withheld rent payments in 2015, part of an ongoing dispute that ended with the Raiders leaving for Las Vegas thanks to a sweetheart deal in their new city.

What’s new this time, of course, is the effect of pandemic economics. Citing the force majeure clause in the contract between the Athletics and the stadium authority, A’s general counsel D’Lorna Ellis referenced the unavailability of the stadium for play to justify the team deferring payment “until [they] have a better understanding of when the Coliseum will be available for use.”

The Coliseum Authority Executive Director made the issue a bit more confusing with contradictory statements, first saying that “because they haven’t used it, they were not able to generate revenue and they have no ability to pay,” before assuring the San Francisco Chronicle that the A’s never suggested revenue was an issue.

Coliseum Authority board member Ignacio De La Fuente, a former president of Oakland’s City Council, was less conciliatory than Gardner.

Coliseum Authority board member Ignacio De La Fuente reacted strongly, saying the A’s are taking advantage of a crisis not to pay rent. The crisis is “not the city’s fault, not the county’s fault or the state’s fault,” De La Fuente said. “I’m going to make sure we do whatever we can to make them pay.”

He added: “It’s just an excuse to try to not pay when the city needs the money the most.”

Angels to Furlough Employees

The Los Angeles Angels intend to start furloughing their non-player personnel on June 1, according to a report by The Athletic. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Uniform Employee Contracts as of May 1, but the Angels were among the many teams to guarantee employment for their staff through the end of May.

The employee furloughs will hit the scouting staff, junior-level baseball operations employees, and members of the analytics department. Perhaps most ominously for those waiting to see if the minor leagues will officially be canceled for the 2020 season, the furloughs also include minor league coaches and coordinators. Medical coverage will be offered through the end of the year, but to receive monetary assistance, the furloughed employees will have to apply for grants from the Angels Employee Assistance Fund. In furloughing their employees, the Angels joined teams such as the Reds, the Rays, and the Marlins.

Giants Institute Pay Cuts for Full-Timers

Much like the Seattle Mariners recently announced, the San Francisco Giants will, instead of furloughing their full-time employees, institute salary cuts. These cuts will consist of 25% of salary above the $75,000 threshold, resulting in a total pay cut of roughly 10%.

Sixty part-time employees will be furloughed with the team making monthly payments to supplement their normal unemployment benefits. The team has committed to keeping the approximately 350 full-time workers on until at least the end of the normal regular season in late September.

For Some, Spring Training Starts Slowly

While there’s not yet an agreement between the owners and the players on the financial and health rules required to start the 2020 season, Spring Training II: Spring Harder is progressing, though with a good deal of variance between franchises. Players on the Marlins 40-man roster will have limited access to team’s spring training complex in Jupiter, Florida. The Rangers, on the other hand, would prefer to hold any further training at the new stadium, Globe Life Field, with team president Jon Daniels citing temperatures in Arizona and the fact that the new stadium has state-of-the-art facilities. On the other hand, the Dodgers have no immediate plans to open up their Arizona facility, though several players living in the area have been working out at the Camelback Ranch.

NFL Testing New Face Masks

Unlike other sports leagues, the NFL had the luxury of finishing their season right before the pandemic hit and don’t have to worry about any lost or awkwardly fanless games for another three months. But the challenges when the NFL does return are significant: there are more players on the field than with other sports, and they play closely together, with physical contact between players on every play. In order to try to limit the potential for a player with COVID-19 infecting every player he comes into contact with, the NFL is testing modified face masks with N95 and surgical mask material integrated into them. If successful, perhaps MLB will take a page from the NFL and develop an N95 catchers’ mask.

No Fans in California Ballparks Until Vaccine?

California governor Gavin Newsom stated that sports could resume in California in early June without fans as part Stage 3 of the state’s plan to return to some semblance of normalcy. But don’t expect to see spectators in the stands any time soon.

Newsom offered that assessment while discussing his hope that California can soon move into Stage 3 of the state’s plan to ease coronavirus restrictions. Newsom said live-audience sporting events won’t be permitted until Stage 4 — a step that requires a vaccine or other therapeutic treatments for COVID-19 — which could take months or years to achieve.

There are a number of promising vaccines for COVID-19 in development, with Moderna reporting that they have achieved positive results from a vaccine they’re developing. While the financial resources and global need for a COVID-19 vaccine are much greater than for the typical illness, in one study examining vaccine development from 1998 to 2009, the average development timeline was 10.71 years, with only 6% of candidates eventually entering the market. There’s no guarantee that a vaccine will be developed by the end of 2020, the end of 2021, 2022, or ever. Short of a change in state policy, the Padres, Giants, Dodgers, Athletics, and Angels will have to consider the possibility that 2020 will merely be the first season played without fans.

We hoped you liked reading COVID-19 Roundup: MLB Furloughs Accelerate by Dan Szymborski!

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Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com 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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MikeS
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MikeS

It would be interesting to know exactly what the Force Majeur clause in the A’s contract says. The way I understand it, the burden of proof varies from state to state, but they often include epidemics/pandemics specifically and I don’t know why it would matter that it isn’t the City, County, or State’s fault since the whole point of such clauses is that something huge and unstoppable has happened so the terms of the agreement do not apply. The only way it could matter is if the clause were written to say that the A’s had to pay rent, even in case of Force Majeur, and not that they would be able to forego paying rent in case of Force Majeur. Would Oakland still be entitled to collect rent if an earthquake rendered the stadium unsafe or a meteor slammed into Northern California? None of those are the fault of the City, State, or County and I thought that is the sort of disaster Force Majeur was usually meant to cover.

Shalesh
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Shalesh

You make a good point about how if the force majeure clause includes a pandemic, it’s tough to see how Oakland County can make a claim. A similar issue is going on between commercial landlords and their tenants, particularly between mall owners and retailers/gyms/restaurants. I think they’re working it out by spreading out the rents during the months of the shutdowns over the remaining length of the lease (if the tenant business can survive). Simon Property Group’s stock was down 70% at one point and has only recovered to down 60% while most of the tech sector has set new highs even above pre-Covid levels.

This is another reason it’s good that most of the country and most of Europe is re-opening (except for the most infected counties). CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla just tweeted his summary of a JPMorgan report out today (worth looking at the tweets to see the charts) about the lockdowns thusly:

“JPMorgan has a devastating piece arguing that infection rates have declined — not increased — in states where lockdowns have ended, “even after allowing for an appropriate measurement lag.” (Kolonavic)

Same goes for various countries, adds JPM. “This means that the pandemic and COVID-19 likely have its own dynamics unrelated to often inconsistent lockdown measures that were being implemented..”

More JPM: “In the absence of conclusive data, these lockdowns were justified initially.” But “millions of lives were being destroyed .. with little consideration that [lockdowns] might not only cause economic devastation but potentially more deaths than COVID-19 itself.”