With the sixty game 2020 MLB season planned to get going this month, players will be getting their full pro-rated salaries for those games. A lot of players will lose plenty of money just from this alone, but the players set to become free agents this winter have to just be shaking their heads at the bad luck they’ve drawn.
The economic future of Major League Baseball is as big of a question mark as its ever been. Not at all because the league is about to go down the toilet and stop making money or anything, any hints of that would be major hyperbole despite the sport’s waning popularity, but the animosity between the players and owners who have to figure out how to distribute the league’s revenue is torching hot after the last few months of trying to negotiate how to approach the 2020 season in the midst of a global pandemic.
With the way things are trending, there’s no guarantee that a 2021 season would be perfectly on-schedule and with fans, so owners will likely be salivating at the opportunity to limit the money they’re willing to give away with the uncertainty of the future and the relatively small sample size of work (60 games in 2020) the players will have to bring to the negotiating table this winter.
Unlike in other sports, baseball doesn’t just have free agency, it has arbitration salaries and potential hearings for players who haven’t accrued enough service time in the bigs to reach free agency. Several recent league MVPs like Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger have won the awards on heavily discounted salaries due to this unique twist in the MLB rules.
There are some Rangers who will both be free agents and forced to negotiate a one-year salary figure based on their performance during the odd 2020 season.
The long-time veteran will turn 38 later this month and enters the 2020 season in the final year of a seven-year/$130 million contract that he signed before the 2014 season. He said this spring that he is unsure about his playing career beyond this season, but that he still loves the game. If this season were Choo’s last on his own terms (retirement), that’d be fine and he just needs to enjoy these final few months playing the game he loves. If he wants to play in 2021, then the pressure is on.
Teams seem to be moving away from giving veterans in the twilight of their careers new contracts unless they take one-year deals worth much less than their stats from the previous season might suggest they deserve. Last winter, Edwin Encarnacion’s one-year/$12 million deal with the Yankees serves as the high end example for an aging player who’s likely to be limited to a DH role at this point in their career. Former Ranger Hunter Pence, whose first half performance earned him an All-Star nod in 2019, was only able to get a one-year/$3 million deal late this winter with his former team in the San Francisco Giants.
After making an average of slightly over $20 million per year from 2016-2019, money might not be the deciding factor in what makes Choo pursue playing in 2021.
The competition for at-bats among younger Ranger players will certainly make it tough for Texas to rationalize bringing back Choo in 2021 if he’s set on playing everyday.
The new face of the Rangers franchise was looking like a fringe MVP candidate through the first two months of the 2019 season. After various injuries throughout the rest of the season limited him to just 70 games played, Joey Gallo had to be pumped to fully show off what he was capable over the course of a full season in 2020. Gallo and the Rangers settled on a $4.4 salary for 2020 to avoid arbitration this winter.
With still a couple of years before he enters free agency, Gallo will have to negotiate a one-year salary again this winter. With only 60 games to work with this season, it will surely create a tough way to negotiate for both sides when he and the Rangers meet this winter.
Past extreme cases of players being able to negotiate majorly high salaries in arbitration include Mookie Betts’ $27 million mark earlier this year and Nolan Arenado’s $26 million last winter. With a 2019 season consisting of 70 games and a 2020 likely consisting of no more than 60 games unless the Rangers make a deep playoff run, Gallo will have less than one full 162 regular season on his resume over the past two seasons. He won’t be able to negotiate a number anywhere close to Betts or Arenado’s figure, but perhaps somewhere in the $10-15 million range. That would be a hefty raise from $4.4 he agreed to for this season before it was sliced to an amount pro-rated for 60 games.
Coming off an All-Star nod and a top ten finish in American League Cy Young voting in 2019, Mike Minor’s $9.8 million salary for 2020 is one of the better bargains in the sport for a veteran starting pitcher. Minor will be in the final year of the three-year/$28 million deal he signed with Texas before the start of the 2018 season and looking for what will probably be the last big money deal of his career this winter. The timing is unfortunate for the 32-year-old, but there is some past evidence of pitchers his age being able to land solid deals at that age.
2019’s ERA champion Hyun-Jin Ryu signed a four-year/$80 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last winter at the age of 32. Ryu had averaged just 23 starts the previous three seasons and only had one start between the 2015 and 2016 seasons combined due to injuries. Minor missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to injuries while with the Royals but had a healthy 2017 season as a reliever and then has averaged 30 starts and 183 innings in two seasons at the top of the Rangers rotation. While he’s likely not a threat to lead the league in ERA or do it in a high-profile Dodgers uniform like Ryu, perhaps a strong 9 or 10 starts in 2020 can give Minor the track record to demand a similar deal with winter.
A slightly smaller deal might be a better comparison. 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel signed with the Chicago White Sox last winter for three years/$55 million. This came after he only started 19 games for the Braves due to him not finding the deal he wanted in free agency during the 2018-2019 offseason and not signing until the beginning of June last season. While Minor’s 2020 season will have even less starts than that due to the 60 game schedule, perhaps a shorter deal for slightly less than $20 million a year could be more attainable due to his age and injury history.
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