MLB, players ratify contingencies pact


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On what would've been opening day, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association left themselves a clear opening toward labor peace through the ongoing coronavirus stoppage.

With both sides expressing a wish to not appear to be squabbling over a $10 billion annual business amid a global crisis, roughly 80 players participated on a call Thursday night with union chief Tony Clark and eventually ratified a multilayered agreement. The owners also ratified the agreement Friday.

Within that:

• Both sides agreed they'd prefer to play as many games as possible in 2020, tentatively eyeing training camps in mid-May and the beginning of games in June, even if that means playing in empty stadiums. They also agreed to entertain the possibility that the regular season could extend into October, with neutral-site playoff games in November and, as had been previous known, doubleheaders would be added to the schedule.

• Players were granted their main wish of receiving a full year of major-league service time even if the season's canceled. That means an array of currently signed players, notably the Dodgers' Mookie Betts, can become free agents in November regardless of the season's status.

• Owners, in turn, were granted their main wish of receiving assurance from the union that players won't sue the league for full salaries if the season's canceled. MLB will advance players $170 million over the next two months and, if games are played, that advance will count against the prorated remainder of their salaries.

• The draft, already set to be moved from June to July, could be shortened to as few as five rounds, at the sole discretion of the commissioner, Rob Manfred. He's also been authorized to shorten the 2021 draft to as few as 20 rounds. It's currently 40 rounds. Additionally, Manfred can delay the 2020 international signing period, originally July 2, 2020, through June 15, 2021, to as late as Jan. 1 2021 through Dec. 15, 2021, though there's extensive talk that the league wants to scrap international free agency altogether before the current broader labor agreement expires in December 2021.

• As soon as the owners sign this agreement, a transaction freeze will go into immediate effect. That means no trades, no free-agent signings, no roster moves of any kind. Which explains why the Pirates made a series of internal moves over the weekend.

• When the regular season starts, teams are expected to expand their rosters from 26 to 29 players, meaning each team would be able to carry more pitchers.

• Games will not start until there are no travel restrictions and medical experts determine games will not pose a risk to health of teams and fans. Both sides will still consider the possibility of playing games at neutral sites or in empty stadiums, but ideally, they would play in their home cities with fans in attendance.

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