How many of you have ever been in a fight with someone? I am not limiting the answer to this to a question strictly about physical altercations. This isn’t the same thing as have you ever taken a punch? It could have been argument with a friend, teacher, co-worker, loved one or even stranger. I am pretty sure we have all been there. As the exchange intensifies, we begin to feel our body “tense up”, our eyes may water, our fists may clench, some of us actually take a defensive stance and our mind starts to race, sometimes out of control. During any circumstance such as this it is hard for many of us to keep our cool and make valid and pointed assertions. Our thoughts and ideas become more about how to “win”, rather than convincing the other person based upon our original logic. This is about being right. This is about making everyone else involved agree with us or even better yet, admit that they are wrong.
Now imagine you are merely a spectator to the intense struggle of wills; with no ability to influence the outcome of the debate one way or another. No-one wants to hear what you have to say, even if it will settle the argument in favor of one side, gives someone an out without admitting they are wrong or allows for a compromise to be made that would be beneficial to all parties involved. This is how I currently feel about the battle that is going on involving Major League Baseball, the MLPA and advocates for Minor League Players, with the MiLB players being in the crowd along with all of us.
Thus far some agreements have been reached. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association come to understanding on a deal pertaining to issues including service time, pay, and the amateur draft. As it stands now, players would get credited for a full year of service time for games played in 2020 and every player on an active roster will get service time whether or not there is a 2020 season. That means players; including many of the high profile free will become free agents heading into the 2021 season; including Keone Kela. If there is a season, pay will be prorated. Players will also not receive any penalties through arbitration for lesser stats in a shortened season. The MLB has to and is advancing the players $170 million for pay in April and May. In the event there is no season, the players will not be asked to return that money. Also as part of the agreement the MLB is given the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and can delay the start of the international signing period to as late as January 2021. The 2021 draft can be shortened to 20 rounds, and the 2021-22 international signing period can be pushed to anytime between January and December 2022. Finally a transaction freeze was be put into place for all MLB players. The two sides have the ability to lift this at an agreed upon time in the future, which has yet to be determined.
This is a lot of information to unpack, but for the Pirates it only means a few things. Major League Players will receive a payment for their services in April and May, despite participating in no meaningful games, if you are on the active roster you accumulate a year of service time no matter if there are zero or 100 games played, someone that was supposed to a free agent at the end of the season will automatically be granted this status. So the Pirates have to pay Major League Players, they lose a year of service time/control on many players, Keone Kela could be gone at the end of the year without any ability to acquire anything for him and none of the players GM Ben Cherington acquired on 1 year deals can be “flipped” at the trade deadline.
Following this deal, Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball changed their focus and decided to address the payment of Minor League Players, who realistically have minimal representation other than a few outspoken advocates. Manfred informed minor league ball clubs and its players on March 31st that the season was currently suspended, but agreed to pay minor leaguers $400 per week through May. The $400 wage is a serious paycut for minor league veterans. many who expected to earn more than $10,000 a month at the Triple-A level. It will be a raise for minor league players in the lower levels. Minor leaguers will also continue to receive medical benefits, but they are not eligible for unemployment because they still under contract with their respective ball clubs.
Ok, it’s something, but is it enough? That’s the rub. For some it may be adequate; especially if they received a significant bonus when they signed with their parent club. For others it may not even be enough to pay the rent in their team’s hometown, where they were planning on beginning the season. Also the previous agreement between Rob and Tony could have future consequences, not only players that have yet to be drafted, but also the organizations and communities of a specifically listed 42 teams. If there are say 5 to 10 (the highest number I have seen discussed) rounds in this years MLB Amateur Draft and 20 in next years, that is a significant drop in the number of players entering the minor leagues during the next two years. This falls right in line with Manfred’s plan to dissolve 42 minor league teams and gives him an out because he would only be reacting to address some of the unfortunate consequences of COVID-19. Thanks Rob! Your such a compassionate fellow; a martyr if you will!
So how does this affect the Pirates? Right now it doesn’t. They are paying some AAA and AA players less than they would have during a regular season, while paying some A and Rookie Level players more. As I see it, this is a proverbial push for the Pittsburgh Pirates Front Office and Bob Nutting. In general it is win for the minor league players. They are actually getting paid something and they actually have jobs. The devil’s advocate perspective would be that since they are still employed, they cannot collect unemployment; which could potentially pay them more. As a player I am not sure which set of circumstances would be better and would have to examine each on a case to case basis. Although based on the statements from some of the minor league players that have been release by their teams I would have to believe they would rather have jobs. As of April 1st the Pirates have not released any of their minor league players, but ones on other teams have not been as lucky. The Cubs, Cardinals, Angels, Tiger, A’s, Giants and others went on mass dumping sprees of minor league players in the days surrounding the announcement.
In my Twitter conversation with J.J. Cooper (link below) he reported that last year between March 23rd and March 29th there were 301 MiLB players released and this year there were only 159 total between March 1st and April 1st. I understand the sentiment and the idea behind this, but this isn’t a normal season with a normal set of events and timelines. No one is operating in the same way because Rob Manfred and the MLB have not laid out any specific guidelines. I am not saying that they should because I am not sure that it would help, but then at least everyone would be doing the same thing and no one would be made to look like jerks for operating like every thing is status quo.
I fully understand that this was not expected and none of this is an easy task. However, there is a right and a wrong way of doing business. As of right now there have been a lot of positives to come out of this unfortunate situation, but there have also been some negatives. It has not been life and death by any means; this is a sport after all. I just want everyone to remember that for some, this is their lively hood. This is how they support themselves and sometimes their families. This should be a time of togetherness in the figurative sense; where no one is left behind if it can be helped and no one feels like they are alone.