Could you imagine the Yankees playing home games at the Trop? Or Steinbrenner Field in Tampa?
As part of a deal between baseball owners and players on pay, service time, draft changes and other issues related to the coronavirus-delayed start to the season, the sides also agreed to be open to all aspects of scheduling when/if they do start play.
Which, among myriad scenarios, could include teams from cities where the coronavirus is widespread, such as New York, shifting at least some games to potentially safer neutral sites.
So … do they open the upper deck at the Trop for Yankees-Red Sox?
The more concrete, and relevant, news Friday was that the sides agreed to a deal that gives players some money now while limiting owners’ exposure if the season is canceled, provides guidelines for awarding service time, and delays and significantly cuts down the draft.
Also, that teams won’t lay off any staff at least through April, rosters are frozen now and likely to be expanded when they do start playing, and talks will continue on details of a second “spring” training (which the Rays likely would do at the Trop instead of Port Charlotte) and potential expansion of the playoff field.
There is no date for the resumption of play, which will be predicated on clearance from the government and medical experts on travel and crowd restrictions. Commissioner Rob Manfred said he’d hope teams could at least start practicing together by late May and begin playing games a few weeks later. Others around the game said they’d be happy with a July or even Aug. 1 start.
But with the deal there is now at least a framework.
“It’s really important,” Rays player rep Tyler Glasnow said. “At a time right now with so much uncertainty, it’s nice to have a couple things on paper and be able to come up with an agreement.”
The two biggest points, naturally, were financially driven.
One, Major League Baseball will advance the players $170 million over the next two months — a fraction of the $4 billion-plus overall payroll — which the union reportedly will divide into four groups.
Players with guaranteed deals, such as Glasnow’s $2.05 million up to Charlie Morton’s $15 million, will get around $150,000 a month. Others, based on split contracts with major- and lower minor-league salaries, will get $30,000, $15,000 or $8,250.
If the season starts, players get the rest of their salaries on a prorated basis based on games played. If the season is cancelled, the players get to keep the advance money but agreed not to pursue their full salaries, as the league could argue contracts were voided by a national emergency clause.
“At this point I think it’s just nice to get anything,” Glasnow said. “Looking at the situation everyone else is in … this isn’t really a time the fight for (more) advances. People seem pretty optimistic about a season starting; I don’t know. It’s just good to know we are getting a little something right now.”
Two, no matter what happens, players will get service time, which is an important factor in their current and future contract status and pay scale. If there is a season of any length, they will get credit for a full year. If the season is canceled, they will get the same amount they had in 2019.
Because so much of the game’s financial system is based on precedent, Glasnow said getting the owners to award the service time “was the most important thing for everyone” on the players side.
The deal could lead to some odd situations. The Dodgers traded three prospects to the Red Sox to get Mookie Betts (plus ex-Ray David Price), but if there is no season, Betts would become a free agent without ever playing a game for L.A.
The draft will be pushed from early June into July, and shortened from 40 rounds to as few as five, with bonuses limited and payment deferred. And the international signing period, which usually opens July 2, can be delayed to January. Those moves will limit team spending on amateur talent, but also narrow opportunities for players, some of whom may opt for college ball.
Players and owners are committed to playing as many games as possible, with the union having final say on the schedule, which is now the No. 1 topic for discussion.
Without knowing a start date, they are considering many options: Playing initially without fans or at spring/neutral sites, scheduling multiple doubleheaders a week, extending the regular season through October and the playoffs deep into November or even December by playing in warm weather/domed stadiums. Union chief Tony Clark said they are open to talking about pretty much all options — including a scenario such as a team like the Yankees opening play in a site like the Trop — so they can get back on the field as soon as possible.
“I think there are going to be some ideas that are thrown around that do seem creative and whatnot,” Glasnow said. “I think everyone is definitely on the same page as far as just wanting to get as many games as we can in. And obviously, too, it doesn’t really matter where it is, we just want to get it in.”