The Fake Baseball Season

A #ForeverGiant sings on “The Masked Singer” TV show

by DrLefty

OK, I’m not down with these simulated baseball games. Why do I want to pretend that the Dodgers are stomping on the Giants in the opening series at Dodger Stadium? If I wanted to see that, I could watch real baseball. Also, let’s not forget that the Giants won two straight 1-0 games at Dodger Stadium to open the 2018 season (thanks, Joe Panik!), so I’m just going to assume that happened because it did happen. Who cares what some simulator thinks about games that have never been played?

So Opening Day came and went, and all we got was some stupid simulated box scores. But our Zoom meet-up was fun. Over several hours, we had 8-9 different people drop in for awhile. Surf Maui wants to have more watch parties, and I think a TWG Zoom happy hour would be fun. Meet up with your beverage of choice, shoot the breeze, talk baseball. Let me/us know what you think.

More significantly, MLB and the MLBPA came to some important agreements about the near-term future of the sport. These were all very complex issues, and it sounds like the negotiators did a good job of sorting them out in ways that seem fair to everyone…well, almost everyone. We’ll get to that.  Here are the main points.

 

The schedule, if the 2020 season ever starts up

It sounds like there was a meeting of the minds that everyone wants to play baseball as soon as possible and as many games as possible. Thus, scheduling options might include:

  • Playing games in empty ballparks
  • Getting rid of the All-Star Game/break
  • Waiving the requirement that teams can’t play more than 20 days in a row without a day off
  • Doubleheaders
  • Extending the regular season
  • Postseason games at neutral sites with better weather (if it’s November or beyond, for instance)

It’s too soon for any of those decisions to be made–it sounds like the best-case scenario is camps opening in mid-May and games starting in early June–but it all depends on how this pandemic plays out in the coming weeks and what the social distancing guidelines are.

 

Salaries vs. service time

This was where the slick, creative thinking really had to happen, and here’s what they came up with.

  1. Owners will not be on the hook for full, guaranteed player salaries for 2020. As this SI article explains, the league had the leverage here, as the contract clearly states that the teams don’t have to pay player salaries when games are canceled due to a national emergency.
  2. Owners will have a large slush fund ($170 million) that will pay major leaguers advances–some kind of stipend when they’re not getting paychecks–just to tide them over. If the 2020 season resumes, those checks will be advances on their 2020 salary, which will be prorated. If the 2020 season is canceled entirely, the players can keep that money.
  3. If the season is canceled entirely, the players will get service time toward free agency or arbitration that mirrors the service time they earned in 2019. (This could mean, for instance, that Mookie Betts can become a free agent next fall without ever playing a game in a Dodger uniform.) If a partial season is played, service time will be prorated. So, for example, if 50% of the games (81) are played and Brandon Belt plays in 90% of them (73), he’d get service credit for 146 games played.

 

The draft and international free agency (IFA)

This is complicated, and I don’t think all the details have been worked out, but it includes these elements:

  • the first-year player draft will be later (July instead of early June)
  • there may be only five rounds of the draft
  • bonus pools will be adjusted
  • IFA dates will also be adjusted, as will bonus pools

 

Winners, losers, and how this affects the Giants

Winners

Well, guys like Mookie Betts. You never know what could happen in a walk year. Betts could injured. He could react badly to being a new league and have a bad or mediocre year. The scenario where his health and performance are frozen in time at the end of 2019 clearly benefits him, without delaying his entrance into the free agent market. Similarly, Cody Bellinger gets a year closer to free agency without swinging a bat.

Losers
  • The Dodgers (Betts, Bellinger, Buehler, even Kershaw) and any team that has a valuable player of whom they’re losing at least part of a season of team control. The Indians and Francisco Lindor are another example.
  • Highly paid veterans who will lose part or even all of a lucrative year of salary. They get a year closer to free agency, too, but in the case of the Giants’ guys–Cueto, Samardzija, Posey, Crawford, Belt, Longoria, Gausman–there is no guarantee at all that they will ever make up that money in a future contract. Guys like Betts and Bellinger are losing hefty arbitration-year salaries, but they still have plenty of time to make more money.
  • Players in high school, college, and other countries who will have fewer opportunities to get drafted/signed and will earn less bonus money if they do sign.
  • Teams with high draft pick positions (like the Orioles, Tigers, and Marlins) who now will only benefit from that spot for five rounds rather than 30.
  • Current free agents (Puig!), since the new deal puts a freeze on transactions while the league is on hiatus. I assume that is to protect union members who are currently on 40-man rosters from being cut or traded while the entire world is in such disarray.
The Giants

As Andrew Baggarly sketched out in a superb analysis last night, the interrupted season and the MLB/MLBPA agreement is going to work out fairly well for them. They don’t have any Mookie Bettses or Cody Bellingers to worry about. Even their best young(ish) players, Mike Yastrzemski and Mauricio Dubon, don’t have much service time to speak of yet, so losing a fraction of it isn’t going to hurt them much. Their best assets–the prospects–will just be safely stashed in the minor leagues, earning no service time. Kinda sucks for Joey Bart, who seemed the most likely of them all to make his major league debut this year, but on the other hand–this all reduces that awkward period of transition between the face of the franchise (Buster Posey) and the catcher of the future (Bart). Yes, there will be lost developmental time in the minors for the younger players, but the point is that they’re not going anywhere.

The Giants’ owners can’t be shedding any tears over those huge contracts (see list above) that are coming closer to an end with every day that goes by without their having to pay the salaries for awhile. As for draft position, the Giants draft 13th this year, and–meh. Five rounds of that should be fine; their farm system is well-stocked, and they still retain the compensation picks for losing Will Smith and Madison Bumgarner.

Really the only disadvantage, beyond lost development time for minor leaguers, is that the strategy of flipping expiring contracts (Gausman, Smyly, Samardzija, Watson) at the trade deadline for prospects may be near impossible to pull off. On the other hand, as already noted, they won’t be paying those salaries for awhile, so while they’re not gaining anything, they’re not losing much, either.  And flipping those walk-year guys was no sure thing, anyway.

 

So that’s the news from here, and with the freeze on roster changes, I guess there won’t really be any more baseball news to digest for awhile. And NO, for the last time, I don’t want to talk about those stupid simulated games!  Hope you’re all staying safe and healthy and not too stir-crazy. Lefty out.

Oh, I almost forgot this!  Take us out, Masked Singer.