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Major League Baseball owners and MLB Players’ Association ratify agreement dealing with shortened or cancelled 2020 season

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New agreement will cause sweeping change throughout baseball and for the Brewers’ organization

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MLB: World Series-Washington Nationals at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

MLB owners just ratified an agreement struck between MLB and the MLBPA. Details of the agreement include player pay, service time, altered structure of domestic and international draft, roster sizes, and final approval on scheduling.

In the agreement, MLB players will be advanced $170 million for the months of April and May. If there are no games played in 2020, the players will be able to keep the money. Also if there are no games this year or a partial season is played, anyone currently on a 40-man roster, the 60-day injured list or an outright assignment to the minor leagues with a major league contract will receive service time for 2020 equaling what the player accrued in 2019. With that in mind, Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, and other team controlled players will be granted one year of service time even if no games are played.

The agreement shortens the 2020 draft to just five rounds. When the MLB draft will be is to be determined, but it should not be beyond July. Commission Rob Manfred can also delay the international signing period to 2021.

The repercussions of these concessions by the MLBPA regarding the draft are apt to have significant fall-out. Draft-eligible players could take lesser signing bonuses. Teams will be more risk averse, choosing college players over riskier high school talent. One positive is that college teams could enjoy access to more incoming talent than in years past. Shortened seasons also mean that scouts will have a more difficult time scouting them.

Scott Adams of MLB Trade Rumors paints the picture as follows:

The ramifications of such changes are numerous. The 2021 draft class would be immeasurably deeper, and the influx of high-quality college freshmen will in some ways flood college programs — perhaps leading to an increase of players selected out of the Division-II ranks of the NCAA. Many college seniors only sign for $10K as it is, so the financial component of those limited bonuses might not have a substantial impact, but it’ll nevertheless be atypical to see those players effectively create a secondary pool of free agents. As for high school prospects and college juniors who’d typically sign after the 10th round — those players regularly receive $100K bonuses, so the proposed $10K limit would have a far greater impact on their decisions.

There are even more ramifications to consider. As Major League Baseball set out to contract affiliates, there will be fewer opportunities for young players to enter the professional ranks. With contraction the inevitable is an elimination of roster spots. With that in mind, it makes sense that MLB would eliminate draft slots. But why would MLBPA agree to it? Eric Longenhagen offers in-depth insight on the subject. Of real note, he suggests:

The seemingly imminent affiliate contractions means teams will soon need fewer minor leaguers, and cost-conscious MLB, ever seeking to save money where it can, is taking what industry people consider a shrewd and opportunistic approach to the culling of minor league rosters at a time when there’s a convenient pseudo-reason to do it now that their 2020 revenues have been dashed by a pandemic. Why draft and sign 40 rounds worth of players who may not play this summer because of a global health crisis when many will be released next spring after a significant portion of the minor leagues is contracted?

In the case of this specific issue — a shrinking draft — the union’s incentives arguably align with those of the owners. Now several hundred young men who would otherwise have begun an attempt to take big league jobs over the next several years will no longer be there to do so. Several current big leaguers who, in some alternate timeline, would have been replaced by a 2020 draftee selected after round five will now have a job for an extra year or two. MLB leaking their purported consideration of draft cancellation meant the union could save face with amateurs by claiming to have done them a solid by saving the draft at all, when really the draft was probably never in danger; it may represent the only event MLB can utilize to stir public interest in the sport all summer, and is a pipeline for inexpensive, controllable talent. But owners would rather save money than not, and MLB players value their job security.

The cost-conscious MLB set things up favorably for the teams and the MLB organization by getting the international draft moved back to January 2021. As Eric Longenhagen points out, this move allows MLB to delay spending on international talent from July of 2020 to January 2021.

There are other ramifications to consider beyond amateur players. Scouts and other non-player personnel on all 30 teams are to be paid through April 30. Whether that remains the case beyond April 30 remains to be seen. If games are not being played, and scouts and other non-player personnel services are not being utilized, MLB the corporation will have the reason they need to eliminate positions across all of baseball. Again the opportunity for more cost-cutting brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic is in no way the fault of MLB, it is certainly starting to look like it might be used opportunistically. How MLB responds on this front moving beyond April 30 will be of immense interest.

When/if the season starts again, teams will be able to increase roster sizes within the first month of games being played. Why this concession was made is unclear, but might have something to do with pay and service time in a shortened season. This is similar to what happened following the return of players from the 1995 strike.

It is unclear how the limits on the number of pitchers vs. number of position players will look. This should offer an interesting roster construction scenario in relation to the Brewers. Depending when baseball returns, the Brewers could utilize 13-16 pitchers. If the number comes closer to 16, we might see the building of a super bullpen similar to those utilized by Craig Counsell during September call-ups.

Assuming a starting rotation of Brandon Woodruff, Josh Lindblom, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, and one of Eric Lauer, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes, the super bullpen will utilize healthy versions Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Bobby Wahl, Brent Suter, Alex Claudio, Devin Williams, Ray Black, David Phelps, and the two losers in the starting rotation battle. Angel Perdomo, Eric Yardley, and J.P. Feyereisen could be included to formulate a bullpen that Counsell could use to great effect. Other players that could benefit from expanded rosters include: Ben Gamel, Logan Morrison (not on the 40-man), Ryon Healy, David Freitas, and more.

Players did get the concession that they had final say when and how games begin. Games will not begin until national, state, and local bans on mass gatherings are lifted, travel restrictions are eliminated, and that there are no health risk related to COVID-19 for teams and fans. There could be consideration for play at neutral sites and empty stadiums.