What if MLB gets what it wants — players to forego a significant part of their salaries for 2020 — and then a group of players does not show up?
That would be victory turning to defeat quickly for the owners, especially if these are star players and particularly since it could spark another round of fights over issues such as pay and service time for those players.
Already, it was understood a group of players or coaches/managers with preexisting conditions might opt-out over health concerns with the coronavirus still not under control. For example, on the Cubs, Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo are cancer survivors and Brandon Morrow has Type-1 diabetes.
Those types of players will have to decide for health reasons whether to opt in or opt out. But could there be players who decide not to play for financial reasons? I spoke to a half-dozen agents in recent days who said they expected most players to return if there are games due to love of baseball, sense of responsibility to their careers and teammates or perhaps even being shamed into participating because to not play would make them look bad.
But the agents also said if a more favorable financial proposal than what MLB offered Tuesday is not reached, they would not be surprised if some players decide not to play. One of the agents said, “I would actually be more surprised if we did not get a few who sat out.” No one named names, but there were educated guesses on what types of players might strongly consider not playing a shortened season in a pandemic for less than their contracts are worth:
1. The super-rich players. The ones who are being asked under the current MLB offer to take the biggest cut. They have either made plenty already and/or have lots of money coming beyond this year. No one spoken to suggested that the two players who were due the most this year ($36 million), Gerrit Cole and Mike Trout, would not play. But a few noted the coincidence that both have wives due with their first child in saying how other external pulls plus money could push some players to stay away in 2020. One of those pulls, by the way, could be principle: I worked hard to get to the point to make this amount and it is unfair to penalize me in such a finite career.
2. The players with contracts for multiple years in which 2020 is a low year. Many long-term deals start low and rise each year. Recently, Blake Snell created a stir by mentioning he would not play unless he got his full prorated pay. In Season 2 of his five-year, $50 million pact, Snell was due $7 million. So even if paid a full prorated amount he would be looking at about $3.5 million for 82 games. Under MLB’s current proposal that would drop to roughly $2 million. Snell is due $10.5 million next year, then $12.5 million in 2022 and $16 million in 2023. Will players with rising contracts strongly consider forfeiting the fraction they receive this year with the guarantee of what is still coming? Given the current atmosphere, would MLB or a team argue that such a maneuver would leave a healthy player in violation of his contract?
3. A free agent who feels he could do more harm to his case than good. It already is understood by agents that arbitration-eligible players and especially free agents are facing a financial bloodbath this coming offseason as teams react to 2020 revenue loss. Will some walk-year players decide they can only further damage their credentials by risking injury with a shortened/very different spring training 2.0 and just a half season to accumulate statistics? For example — again, no one mentioned names — but can stars such as Mookie Betts or J.T. Realmuto help themselves at all this year or only hurt their free agency with injury or down performance?