In case you forgot, Thursday was supposed to be Opening Day for the 2020 MLB season, and the Braves were supposed to be in Phoenix to kick off a campaign against the Diamondbacks… where presumably Mike Soroka was poised to go seven clean innings in a shutout win as the Braves start strong in their quest for three straight NL East division titles… but, of course that didn’t happen.
However, intriguing things did take place on Thursday, and it appears MLB and the player’s union have agreed on a few key issues pertaining to salaries and service-time (among other things like the coming draft). These agreements come after almost two weeks of negotiations, though frankly, the fact that the two sides were able to compromise so soon is quite a refreshing surprise, given our country and the world currently have substantially larger fish to fry. Most importantly, though (at least for baseball’s sake), it appears MLB has at last made the proper provisions in the event the 2020 season never actually happens, which at the moment is looking more and more like reality instead of just an unfortunate nightmare.
To start, MLB will be advancing a $170 million salary for April and May, which players will be able to keep in case the season is canceled altogether. Although, perhaps one of the most significant decisions that came from this collaboration is how the league will deal with service time. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, players will accrue a full year of service time if they’re on the roster or injured list for the entirety of the shortened season (IF there’s a 2020 season). In the unfortunate event the season is canceled, players will earn as much service time for the canceled season as they compiled in 2019 (which would suck for the Dodgers, who would receive absolutely nothing from Mookie Betts — a FA next offseason).
Any player earning another year of service-time without contributing anything in a given season hurts, therefore literally all 30 MLB teams are going to feel jaded if there are no games in 2020. Guys like Betts for the Dodgers, J.T. Realmuto for the Phillies, Trevor Bauer for the Reds and Marcus Stroman for the Mets are all big-time players who would be providing zero production for their respective teams this year, while immediately hitting the open market of free agency when winter rolls around again.
For the Braves, it wouldn’t be quite as depressing, but there are a few players we’d never see play. Although, regardless whether or not the 2020 season is three months in length or there’s no season at all, the fact that several players would be one more year closer to free agency or to earning an arbitration salary — while playing nowhere near a full-162 — is far from ideal.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s to come next winter for the Braves, now that we know how the league will handle service-time going forward:
- Cole Hamels — LHP
- Marcell Ozuna — OF
- Mark Melancon — RHP
- Shane Greene — RHP
- Tyler Flowers — C
- Nick Markakis — OF
- *Darren O’Day — LHP (’21 club option)
- Adeiny Hechavarría — SS
Eight possible players are headed to the FA market next winter, including two players who would never even play for the Braves in Hamels and Ozuna (if there’s no 2020 season). The Braves could pick up O’Day’s $3.5 million club option for the 2021 season, but given he’ll be entering his age-38 season — and the fact that he hasn’t done anything for the Braves since being acquired — that seems rather doubtful.
- Sean Newcomb — LHP
- A.J. Minter — LHP
The 2020 season will be the final year the Braves are able to benefit from these two pitcher’s production at the league minimum salary, as both Minter and Newcomb will be eligible for arbitration next winter (though Minter struggled mightily in 2019). Perhaps Newcomb could impress in the starting rotation during a shortened 2020 season and even receive an extension. Either way, this was supposed to be such a pivotal year for Newk, and one that could’ve potentially set up his career going forward.
Final arbitration year
- Mike Foltynewicz — RHP
- Adam Duvall — OF
Speaking of “supposed to be a big year,” Foltynewicz needed a turnaround in 2020, whether it came in a full season or a partial one. With a $6.425 million salary for 2020, it’s imperative that Folty improves upon his 4.54 ERA from last season. Hopefully, he’ll get the opportunity to do so, given he will soon hit the open market.
Others of note
Brian Snitker — Manager
I know he’s not a player, but Snitker is just as important as one of the guys, especially since the 2020 season is the final guaranteed year of his current two-year contract. The manager everybody seems to love does have a club option for the 2021 season, and it would be incredibly surprising if the Braves didn’t re-sign him or extend him at some point this year, so I’m not as worried about this one. Have to bring Snit back.
Freddie Freeman — 1B
Also, even without a global pandemic in 2020, the Braves were going to have to decide as to whether or not to extend first baseman Freddie Freeman, who will play the final year of his 8-year, $135 million contract in 2021. Thus far, it has seemed quite convincing that such a deal is in the works, though GM Alex Anthopoulos has made it clear he wishes to wait until Freeman’s closer to completing his contract.
It’s a no-brainer to extend Freeman long term, as this is a player that has essentially carried the team for the last decade, compiling three times more WAR than any other current Braves’ player from 2009-19 (save for Brian McCann who gets a massive bump in WAR from catching). I understand the Braves’ desire to remain patient, but a decision must be made soon. And given the fact that a Freeman extension will undoubtedly take up such a large portion of payroll in the coming years, settling a deal with him will most likely be required before setting up extensions for other players deemed necessary by the team.