2020 Minor League Free Agents Will Be Eligible For Free Agency This Fall

Minor League Baseball players who were scheduled to be free agents at the end of the 2020 season have been told they will be eligible for free agency this fall.

The Major League Baseball Players Association has informed agents that non-40-man players will be eligible for free agency even though there was no 2020 MiLB season.

Because of the wording of how players become eligible for MiLB free agency, that was not a certainty. MiLB free agency requires players to provide “skilled services as a Minor League Player in seven (7) separate championship playing seasons” as part of their initial contract.

There was no 2020 MiLB season, so a legal argument could have been constructed that there was no championship season, which would mean that all players who came into the season with six years of minor league service time compiled would have to wait until after the 2021 season to reach free agency.

But for minor league free agency, players are being treated as if the season did take place. Players who were on the restricted list, inactive list or did not report to spring training will not be credited with the year.

The decision will be significant for a number of minor league players. Every year there are players who reach minor league free agency for the first time and find there is no market for their services. But for those who do have a market for their services, minor league free agency means that for the first time they can receive reasonably significant money for playing minor league baseball.

While a Triple-A veteran will make around $15,000 a year if he has not reached free agency (and has never been on a 40-man roster), a veteran who has reached free agency will normally see his salary become double of what it was if he signs a free agent deal. And if the player is in demand, the salary growth can be significantly larger than that.

There has not been the same ambiguity when it comes to Rule 5 draft eligibility this offseason. Unlike MiLB free agency, which is calculated around “championship seasons,” Rule 5 eligibility is based on the number of years that have passed since a player first signed his contract. A player who signs at age 19 or younger is first eligible five years after his first contract while those who sign at age 20 or older reach Rule 5 eligibility four years after his first contract. (Players who sign after a season has been completed are treated as if they signed for the next year).

So players who were scheduled to be Rule 5 eligible after the 2020 season will still be eligible, which means they will either have to be added to the 40-man roster (which brings with it significant financial benefits) or be made available for the Rule 5 draft (which brings with it the chance of being selected and added to the 40-man roster of the selecting team).

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