MLB, Union Making Progress on 2020 Service Time Agreement

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to ravage the world, with no particular end in sight, there remains hope we will see baseball in 2020. Regardless of the number of games played, an actual season — with fans in attendance, no less — would signal both a joyous return to sports, and more importantly, overcoming a terrifying and deadly pandemic.

Remaining sequestered has become routine, and as we await the details of an impending stimulus plan from Congress and general updates regarding the spread of the virus, it feels cathartic to return to thoughts of baseball.

As it turns out, there might be good news for baseball fans even before the season starts. Ken Rosenthal reported this afternoon that the league and union have made headway regarding player service-time in what will ultimately be a shortened 2020 season:

This reported arrangement is far from perfect, and certainly there are few details that have emerged, but at this point any progress is encouraging. With the current CBA set to expire after the 2021 season, and negotiations already looking bleak, a compromise with regard to service-time this year could set the stage for good-faith negotiating in the future.

Per Rosenthal’s tweets players debuting in 2020 would suffer the most, losing out on valuable service days accrued. Of course, the MLBPA was going to have to budge somewhere, and for rookies this season that will have to wait until 2021 to start their service-time clock, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

No one should be surprised, of course. Ownership is always going to look to penny-pinch, even with record profits in the game, and securing the rights to players longer is always an ownership goal. Personally, I’m surprised that they are willing to give MLB players full service-time in 2020, even if the labor advocate in me is delighted. The caveat, of course, being restrictions on player pay and the union’s recourse should the season be lost.

There are several divisive issues to iron out for the new CBA, from players earning their fair market value earlier in their careers, to the luxury tax, to the draft and international spending limits. And while the player’s side is staring down impossible odds, news today that they have even a semblance of leverage in service-time negotiations this season should give labor activists hope.

It’s hard to know what to make of today’s news. Certainly, ownership needs to negotiate quickly with the union so that, whenever the season can begin it actually does. And even if positive overall, the reported compromises made by the union today aren’t a particularly positive harbinger for future CBA negotiations.

That said, it’s apparent both sides are willing to work with one another to make 2020 happen. If nothing else, we have that.

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