Regardless of how few games are played this season, Phillies star catcher J.T. Realmuto will still be eligible for free agency at its conclusion.
Major League Baseball and its players agreed Thursday on a deal that will revise the sport’s economic system in light of what figures to be an abbreviated season because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a source. Players voted to approve the agreement, which is expected to be ratified by owners on Friday.
Highlights of the agreement are reportedly expected to include the allocation of a full season of service time for players, which means Realmuto, Mookie Betts, and other eligible players will be able to reach the free-agent market, as scheduled, in the winter.
But although there also reportedly will be provisions made for the amateur draft, the sides agreed to table discussions for what an abbreviated season might look like.
There also will likely be a freeze on transactions once the deal is finalized, according to a source. The Phillies on Thursday optioned six players to triple-A in anticipation of that freeze, leaving them with 53 players in major-league camp.
Meanwhile, commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Wednesday night — the eve of what would have been opening day — and vowed that baseball will be played this season, perhaps as soon as May, albeit with a shortened schedule.
“The one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back,” Manfred told the network. “Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our fans will be back, our players will be back, and we will be part of the recovery, the healing.”
Manfred said MLB is receiving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other leading experts on infectious diseases. Based on those conversations, he said his “optimistic outlook” is for teams to get back on the field in May.
Whenever that time comes, baseball will have to determine the logistics of resuming spring training (send teams back to Florida and Arizona or hold spring training in their home cities?) and decide how much of the 162-game season can be salvaged. Although owners and players share a desire to play as many games as possible, Manfred suggested that a full season is unrealistic.
"I think that the exact number that we'll see as reasonable is going to depend on when we get the go-ahead to play," Manfred said. "I don't have some absolute number in my mind that's a make-or-break. I think we have to evaluate the situation. I also think that we need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the postseason format looks like.
"Obviously our fans love a 162-game season and the postseason format that we have. We're probably not going to be able to do that this year. I think that's clear. It does give us the opportunity to do some different things, to experiment, and to make sure that we provide as many games as possible and as entertaining a product as possible."
One possibility includes more doubleheaders, perhaps even shortening those games to seven innings to reduce the physical toll on players during a compressed schedule that would include fewer off-days. Another notion is to extend the postseason into November or possibly even December and play the World Series in a warm-weather neutral site.
Manfred told ESPN that "nothing's off the table" in terms of ideas for when baseball resumes.
But no decisions can be made before MLB determines a new start date. And as much as Manfred wants to be optimistic, it's difficult to know when the league will get the proverbial green light.
“I think it will mark a real milestone in the return to normalcy,” Manfred said. “I think you saw it after 9/11, in terms of the resumption of play. I was there in Shea Stadium that night we began playing. It was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever attended.