COVID 19 Roundup: Team Employees’ Contracts Suspended

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.

Baseball Invokes UEC Contract Provisions

Per a report by Ken Rosenthal, Major League Baseball will invoke a force majeure provision in the Uniform Employee Contract signed by all non-player personnel on May 1. The provision allows for the suspension of contracts in extraordinary circumstances. The provision has been available to teams since the declaration of a national state of emergency on March 13, but until now hadn’t been used.

The consequences of this decision aren’t yet known. Teams could do anything from leaving everything exactly as-is to furloughing all of their non-player workers, though healthcare benefits will remain the same. Still, even if teams don’t immediately act, it’s a tough situation for workers, including front office personnel, coaches, and scouts, who must now face the prospect of reduced salary or even unemployment while planning for an uncertain season. (Non-player personnel are not unionized.)

The Braves, Giants, and Phillies have already committed to paying their employees until May 31. Other teams will surely follow suit. But it’s hard to read this move as anything other than a bargaining chip for teams. With the specter of unemployment looming over them, employees might be more amenable to changing the terms of their contracts. The Players’ Association has already reached an agreement with MLB on salary changes in the event of a shortened season, and it appears that non-player employees may soon need to do the same.

KBO Sets Opening Day

The Korean Baseball Organization is set to become the second professional league in the world to resume playing baseball on May 1. An official announcement is expected today. South Korea has, for the moment, succeeded in flattening the curve — they had only eight new cases and two new deaths on Friday, the most recent day of reporting.

The games will look very different from before — no fans will be allowed in the stands, and some players scrimmaged in masks during spring training. The country has been at the forefront of efforts to combat COVID, and their return to playing sports is an encouraging sign. At the same time, it’s hardly business as usual, a sobering reminder that the next step after sheltering in place isn’t an exact return to the way things were before. If you’re interested in reading more about the KBO, Jay Jaffe wrote a primer for the season that features interviews with three front office members.

NPB Postpones Indefinitely

Across the Sea of Japan, things aren’t going as well. NPB again postponed the start of its season last week, with no firm date set. Japan is still on the steep part of the curve, facing a near-logarithmic increase in cases over the past month. That steep increase is beginning to overwhelm the healthcare system; the country faces a severe medical equipment shortage at the moment.

The differing fortunes of the two countries show how unpredictable this season will be. South Korea was hard hit in the early stages of COVID’s worldwide spread, while Japan was relatively spared. But differing strategies for combating the disease have reversed their fortunes. The same bifurcation could easily take place in the United States; some cities and states may remain in the throes of the disease while others approach recovery. It’s yet another reason that the season, should it happen, will likely involve many teams playing in a neutral location together.

Golf Wants All The Tests

The PGA Tour released an updated schedule with 14 events taking place on or before September 7. To complete this ambitious schedule, they reportedly plan to use roughly 1 million COVID tests to ensure the safety of players, caddies, and event personnel.

The scale of the testing that will be needed to play golf tournaments underscores the extreme difficulty of resuming the baseball season. Golf tournaments have between 700 and 800 personnel on site to set up the tournament and on the order of 100 players per event. Baseball would need many multiples of that, and it would be played nearly every day, not four days every couple of weeks. A massive expansion of test production is a prerequisite for any season at all.

Indy, Summer Leagues Delayed

The Northwoods League, a summer wood bat league for college players, delayed the start of its season on Friday. Many of the league’s teams are in states under lockdown orders; the press release specifically mentions Wisconsin, but Minnesota and Michigan are currently under stay at home orders as well, and it would hardly be a surprise to see those extended beyond May 26, the original start date for the league.

Independent Leagues are delaying their seasons as well. The Pecos League announced that it will delay its scheduled May 27 start date indefinitely and seek to play a half-length season when play resumes. The league is spread across six states, which makes coordination difficult. As the league said in its press release, “There are 12 cities in the Pecos League and there are 12 different opinions, two of the cities have said no baseball in 2020. We will adjust and if possible play a 48 game season beginning July 1.”

Clayton Kershaw Weighs In

The Dodgers ace talked to Arash Markazi about staying prepared during an indefinite layout and his views on resuming the season. Like many players with families, he feels the conflicting pulls of wanting to play baseball and wanting to stay with his loved ones. Kershaw and his wife have three young children, and he isn’t willing to isolate himself from his family for the sake of a shortened season played in quarantine.

Kershaw isn’t the average player, but his plight reflects one faced by many big leaguers. Getting back on the field is incredibly tempting; most have done nothing but play baseball their entire adult lives, and would like nothing more than to get back to their routine. But playing games in Arizona under lockdown would be anything but routine, and voluntarily separating from your family during a crisis is a huge price to pay. Kershaw comes down on the side of family, and it’s easy to imagine that many players might do the same. Unless MLB can work out a plan that allows families to quarantine with players, the MLBPA will have a divided constituency when it comes to whether or not to play.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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MikeSmember
2 years ago

The PGA says it needs a million tests to start up. There have been fewer than 4 million tests run in this country according to covidtracking.com. At this point in time, a million tests is almost a week’s supply for the whole country. Testing needs to increase by at least an order of magnitude just to get the PGA up and running. Things aren’t looking good for baseball in 2020.

CC AFCmember
2 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

This is entirely correct, but don’t underestimate the power of the golf lobby when all the people making the decisions about resources are country club members (or owners in the case of a certain person at the head of the table). New York just moved golf courses off its list of non-essential businesses this week for no apparent public health reason other than the courses were whining about how they’re a seasonal business and they had plenty of sympathy from and access to the people in charge.