Coronavirus: MLB considering roster freeze to prevent transactions during COVID-19 shutdown


Major League Baseball, like many sports leagues around the world, has been shut down indefinitely because of the growing threat that is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Spring training has been suspended and Opening Day will be pushed back at least two weeks, though that remains subject to change.

MLB and the MLBPA are still working through the logistics of the shutdown — they agreed Friday that players could remain in spring training, return to their offseason homes, or return to their team’s home city — and among the things they must discuss is roster status. Will teams be allowed to make transactions during the shutdown?

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters, including Jake Seiner of the Associated Press, MLB is considering a “roster freeze” during the shutdown. Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said teams have not yet received specific roster instructions, however. From MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo:

“We haven’t gotten that directive in any formal way,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said Friday. “This weekend in particular, there’s a lot of issues on the table between MLB and the Players Association and just generally, for the industry. We recognize there’s going to be new developments, not just with the coronavirus but for industry business as well. We’re fully prepared that the next several days are going to include a lot of new information.” 

The roster freeze would presumably prohibit trades, waiver moves, minor-league demotions, and 40-man roster maneuvering. Also, opt-out clauses could be pushed back. Many veteran players on minor-league contracts have opt-out dates at the end of spring training that allow them to go elsewhere should they fail to make the Opening Day roster.

At some point MLB and the MLBPA will have to agree on how to handle service time during the shutdown. The hope is a full 162-game season can be played, but there is a strong possibility that won’t happen. Players need 172 days of service time to receive credit for a full season and there may not be 172 days worth of games in 2020. Service time considerations could be looped into a roster freeze.

Of course, a roster freeze only makes sense during the shutdown, at least for the next few weeks. It’s a difficult and scary time for everyone, including ballplayers, and the last thing they need right now is to be traded or released. That stuff can wait until the outbreak is contained and baseball is ready to return to normal.

The NBA and NBPA agreed to a transactions freeze during their COVID-19 shutdown. Trades, signings, and option decisions are prohibited. The NHL has not yet implemented a roster freeze.





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