COVID-19 Roundup: Penny Stipends but No Dollar Answers

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.

While there’s no big MLB update on any start to the 2020 season — nor will there likely be for awhile — the hunkering down of baseball teams, along with the rest of the country, continues. MLB announcing there wouldn’t be any games for at least a couple months has moved the focus, as it ought to be, towards the mitigation of the current situation rather than practical questions about how many games will be played, where, or when.

MLB Clubs Establish a Fund for Ballpark Employees

Ballpark employees are some of the people most affected by the suspension of the 2020 season. There’s no telecommuting or even a skeleton crew still working as you see in many customer-facing businesses, so these employees are suffering de facto layoffs, even if hopefully temporary. With the hospitality industry one of the sectors suffering the quickest in this environment, simply finding another job isn’t an option for many of these workers. These employees tend to make up a very small percentage of a team’s costs, and keeping the team’s trained workforce around is at a minimum an exercise in enlightened self-interest.

Minor Leaguers Need Clarity Quickly

I spent much of Tuesday afternoon talking to my various contacts as to when there would be some clarification as to how the league will handle the problem of minor leaguers, in many cases paid even less than ballpark employees and with less flexibility to find new jobs. I got a lot of “no comment” and allusions to waiting for MLB clarification on the issue. Given how little minor leaguers are generally paid, this issue needs to be top priority as this is a group of MLB employees that struggle mightily even when there are actually games and paychecks. Teams like the Dodgers and Mets (this list is not all-inclusive) have already announced that they will continue to pay spring training per diems to minor leaguers. This is necessary but not sufficient; they ought to be paying the per diems anyway because there’s no doubt still an expectation that these players stay in shape, unlike the author of this article. Teams can and should do better for their minor leaguers, who will suffer financial hardship more keenly than major leaguers will.

Cleveland Indians Pay-for-No-Play?

For a club often criticized for their budgetary stances, it feels a bit like twisting the knife that Cleveland fans are reportedly receiving emails from the Indians noting that the March season ticket installments debited from their bank accounts will still be made on time. While it strikes me as likely there will be some kind of adjustment made in coming weeks, this feels incredibly tone-deaf, even from someone like me who has grandmastered tactless bluntness.

NBA Players Test Positive for Novel Coronavirus

Four players for the Brooklyn Nets have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.. Three of the four are being described as asymptomatic at this point. This isn’t quite baseball, but when we look back at how sports reacted to the current pandemic, the role of Rudy Gobert, serial microphone toucher and virus pooh-pooher, may very well have served to accelerate sports leagues facing reality and suspending their seasons. Sometimes tragedies seem like something “other people” suffer until it hits home.

Coronavirus CBA Consequences

In coming weeks you’ll no doubt read a lot about how major leaguers are faring due to baseball’s shutdown. In one such piece in which Bob Nightengale interviewed Padres outfielder Tommy Pham, these two quotes stood out to be in particular for its impact beyond COVID-19.

Pham, who says lost he $92,000 in the stock market on Monday alone, was planning to use this year’s salary to save money in the event of a strike next season. The labor agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021. And this is a critical season for him with one more year of salary arbitration and free agency around the corner.

Pham isn’t asking for anyone to feel sorry for him, or any of his peers who are established major-league players. You want to have pity? Look at the thousands of minor leaguers and wonder how they’ll financially survive. They haven’t been paid since last August. They won’t be paid again until they start playing. How many will give up their dreams of playing baseball and get a real job?

“They don’t have the finances major-league guys do,’’ Pham says. “The whole nation is pretty much on shutdown, so what jobs can they find. What money do they have? How can they support themselves and their families, but also stay in playing shape? They’re at a huge competitive disadvantage.’’

What consequences will the lack of warchests have on the eventual CBA negotiations? Will players seeing the effects of the season suspension on minor leaguers lead to a negotiating stance less willing to cut off minor leaguers at the knees? The numerous pandemic consequences could extend years into the future and lead to issues we might not normally associate with an illness.

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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I’m not surprised at the Indians continuing to collect season ticket payments and I won’t be surprised when other teams do the same. Whether it’s a work stoppage, rainouts that won’t get rescheduled, or playoff tickets that you have to buy for the maximum possible games while your team is 10 games out of a spot, the teams always want you to pay and never return your money. They just credit the account the next year. You only get money back if you decide not to re-up for the following season.