Major League Baseball, like many sports leagues around the world, has been shut down indefinitely due to 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.
On Friday, MLB and the MLBPA informed teams that players have three options during the shutdown: stay at their team’s spring training facility, return to their offseason homes, or return to their team’s home city.
MLB and the MLBPA are still working through the logistics of the shutdown, including a potential roster freeze. For now, there is no roster freeze, and Saturday morning the reigning World Series champion Washington Nationals announced they released righty reliever Hunter Strickland.
He came over at the trade deadline last year and had a 5.14 ERA in 21 innings with Washington, and allowed four runs in two postseason innings.
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Releasing Strickland so soon after the COVID-19 shutdown looks callous, and it is, but there is a reason for it. Strickland was on a non-guaranteed contract as an arbitration-eligible player, and players with non-guaranteed contracts are only owed a portion of their salary if they’re released before certain dates in spring training.
Strickland was slated to earn $1.6 million in 2020 and, given the timing of the release, the Nationals now owe him only a fraction of that.¬† Strickland allowed nine runs in 6 2/3 innings this spring. He throws hard though and has late-inning chops, so he figures to catch on with another team at some point.
Teams always need bullpen help. Even non-contenders could pick him up with an eye on flipping him for a prospect at the trade deadline.
It’s unclear when — or even if — MLB and the MLBPA will agree to a roster freeze during the shutdown. I assume the union will push for one because they don’t want their players to have to worry about getting traded or released during a national emergency.
A roster freeze would be too late for Strickland, but it could help other players.