MLB and MLBPA agree on 2020 season details: Q&A

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The Houston Astros warm up during MLB spring training. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
The Houston Astros warm up during MLB spring training. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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MLB and its players have agreed to a framework for the 2020 season. Here are answers to some of your questions.

MLB and the MLB Players Union have ratified an agreement that brings some clarity to the 2020 baseball season while opening up some other questions.

That’s great news, because it’s a good starting point necessary for getting the season going. It clears up several contention points and sets a path forward that will guide decisions for the rest of the year.

However, there are still a lot of unknowns right now, such as how long everyone will need to continue social distancing before people can safely gather in crowds again, how long teams will need to prepare before getting the season started, and how long the regular season will last.

Here are a few questions as well as where things stand right now.

When will the MLB season begin?

That’s still entirely up in the air. ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes that three conditions must be met.

  • There are no prohibitions against mass gatherings that would keep players from being able to play in front of fans. Currently, CDC recommendations state that there should be no groups of more than 50 people through May 10.
  • No travel restrictions in the United States or Canada.
  • Medical experts conclude that there’s no health risks for teams or fans.

Passan notes that the decision to play in front of an empty stadium could still occur.

Because it’s too early to know when those conditions will be met, it’s hard to say when the season will begin.

In 1995, when the players strike was ended, they had about three weeks to get ready that year, which seems like a good estimate for this year as well. While spring training lasts six weeks, the period of time that teams will have to warm up before the regular season will be shorter so they can get back on the field and make the games count.

How long will the season be?

This is a question that will be answered in the future. The agreement, as reported on, allows the regular season to extend into October. That could get (c)old quick in the northern climates.

MLB would like to get in as many games as possible, by taking fewer days off and by playing more double headers. The final decision on the schedules will be left up to the players to ensure they feel comfortable with the arrangement.

What about the MLB playoffs?

This is another one of those unknowns.  If the playoffs are pushed into November, then MLB may be forced into playing games on neutral fields to ensure that important games aren’t being decided in snowy or sub-zero conditions.

What changes to MLB rosters will occur?

This was already going to be a year of change in baseball. The 25-man active rosters we were all used to were set to expand to 26 this year. They still will. But for the first month of the season, rosters will be pushed all the way up to 29, per Bob Nightengale. That’s to lessen the concern of injuries. Most of the reason spring training is so long is so that pitchers can get stretched out. The expanded rosters is likely an acknowledgment that pitchers won’t be able to go as deep into games.

Teams who run a little deeper in pitching in their systems are likely to see some benefit from this.

What changes to MLB pay will occur?

If there’s fewer than 162 games played, then players will not receive a full season of pay. They’ll be paid for the portion of the season they do play, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal notes. They will be given a $170 million advance on their salaries, he says, payable over two months. It’s an advance, so a portion of their salaries later in the year will be withheld to make up for it.

How much a player will receive depends on whether he has a guaranteed MLB contract or what kind of split major/minor league contract he is under.

How about MLB service time?

The agreement allows players to accrue a full year’s worth of service time in a shortened season. Beyond that, it allows players (like the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts) to become free agents even if games are not played at all this season. The Astros have several players this applies to.

So what does this agreement mean for the Astros?

The changes to the 2020 MLB Draft were already going to be favorable for the Astros. Although they were forced to forfeit their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, it turns out this is a great time period for that. Top young talent will likely play in college rather than take less-than-favorable deals, and if the draft is shortened to only five rounds the Astros will be on equal footing with other organizations in signing talent.

Beyond that, they should be well-positioned to weather the schedule. Generally, this looks pretty favorable for Houston.

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