This is one of those drafts I had sitting in our back end since Summer Camp, and I kept telling myself I’d get to it later, I’d get to it later. In truth, I’m pretty sure I just didn’t want to breathe life into the possibility that, after all the waiting and hoping for the season to begin, it might get shut down at some point after it started.
But with huge outbreak of COVID-19 on the Marlins (up to 19 players at last check), and today two positive tests on the Cardinals causing more games to be postponed, I couldn’t keep avoiding it. The reality is that this season, try as MLB might, could eventually reach a point where too many games are postponed, too many teams are shut down, and too many players are infected. I couldn’t tell you what that tipping point actually is – and MLB has intentionally been vague about it – but it certainly feels like if we had another team or two face a real outbreak, that might be that.
So, anyway. The headline: what happens to player service time and salary if the season, having started, now gets shut down?
The answer is fairly straightforward, since the players and the owners did NOT reach a new deal before the start of this season. That means everything is governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the March Agreement, which modified things like service time and salary.
From that agreement (AP), emphasis mine:
Each player signed to a major league contract at the start of the season shall have his salary determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the number of games scheduled (not adjusting for weather-related postponements or cancellations) divided by 162, minus any advanced salary. In the event of an additional interruption or delay, the salary shall be determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the games played by the player’s club divided by 162.
MAJOR LEAGUE SERVICE
If games are played, a player would receive service equal to days in the major leagues multiplied by 186 (days in the original season’s schedule), divided by the number of days in the revised schedule after excluding interruptions in play. A full service year remains 172 days.
So, for player salary, that’s just pure prorated pay based on the games that actually get completed. For an example, if the season were stopped after 10 Cubs games, then Anthony Rizzo’s payment for the year would be his full-season salary ($16.5 million) times 10, divided by 162 = $1.02 million.
For a player’s service time, it’s a little bit more complicated, but one thing you can sum up very easily: even if the season is shut down, if a guy is up for all the games that WERE successfully played, he’s gonna get a full year of service time.
Where it gets trickier is for guys who are up and down. For example, let’s say the Cubs went nuts and called up top pitching prospect Brailyn Marquez today. Let’s say he was up for the next four games, and then the season was shut down for good after the completion of that 10th Cubs game. Marquez would get service time thusly: 4 days in the Major Leagues times 186, then divided by the 10 days of the regular season = 74 days service time. Put another way, you’re going to get X% of a service year if you’re up for X% of the season. (40% in this example.)
You don’t have to be a total cynic to notice that teams will probably be pretty cautious about calling up top prospects if they think the season might get shut down – teams aren’t gonna want to trade four days for 40% of a full service year. Of course, that all holds whether the season is shut down or not: if a prospect comes up for the final month of this season, that’s basically half the year, and he’s going to net service time for a half of a year. My guess? We don’t see a ton of top prospects called up after the first wave has sorted itself out over this first 10 days.
Clearly, the March Agreement favored making sure players got lots of service time, rather than lots of pay. Recall, if the whole season had been cancelled, players would get no pay beyond those early salary advances, but would get as much service time as they got the year before. It was good protection for younger big league players, but not so much for veterans on big contracts or top prospects.