Mookie Betts will be a free agent after this season whether games are played or not. How much teams are willing to spend on the former Red Sox outfielder will likely be impacted by how much revenue they lose because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred projected financial losses of nearly $4 billion for owners if the 2020 season is canceled.

“The economic effects are devastating, frankly, for the clubs,” Manfred told CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta.

MLB owners and the players’ union are discussing a proposal to restart the 2020 season, but owners want players to accept an even greater pay cut.

The union and owners initially agreed on prorated salaries based on the length of the regular season. Owners now prefer a revenue sharing 50-50 split with players, something the union views as a salary cap.

The 50-50 split would lessen the financial losses for owners, who are set to lose an enormous amount of revenue without fans in attendance. The Red Sox could lose nearly $200 million alone in gate receipts.

No matter what agreement is reached, revenue decline is bound to negatively affect the free agent market, which is expected to include stars Mookie Betts, Marcus Semien, George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, Robbie Ray, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Bauer, Justin Turner, Marcell Ozuna, Nick Castellanos and Marcus Stroman.

“The free agents might feel the wrath of that,” Realmuto recently told The Athletic’s Matt Gelb. “But in my opinion, I think the top tier of guys always seem to find a way to get their money.

“But it could be bad,” Realmuto added. “And I hope this isn’t the case, but it could be bad for the mid-tier free agents to the lower-tier guys.”

Blake Snell and other players have said they won’t accept any further salary cuts. But doing so might help the upcoming free agent class. Owners would have more money to spend this offseason following a season with a 50-50 split than if a prorated were in place.

Who might the Red Sox pursue in free agency after a season of significant revenue loss? It depends on how things play out from this point forward. Same with every other club.

Don’t expect much in free agency if the season is canceled.

The Red Sox – who enjoyed $516 million in revenue during 2019 (according to Forbes) – also would have the Competitive Balance Tax working against them, in addition to severe revenue losses, if the 2020 season is canceled. Boston slashed its 2020 payroll to stay below the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax base threshold and reset its tax penalties.

But those penalties won’t reset if the season is canceled. Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reported via Twitter, “There is no automatic CBT reset if there’s no 2020 season.” As Speier also recently pointed out, “the financial environment facing every team will be entirely unpredictable. Massive revenue losses may have a larger impact on spending behavior than CBT penalties at that point.”

Looking ahead, outfield and starting pitching will be Boston’s two top needs this offseason.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is eligible for free agency and unlikely to re-sign. The Red Sox traded Betts to the Dodgers in March. Kevin Pillar will enter free agency again.

It is possible the Red Sox would be interested in signing Astros outfielder George Springer when he becomes a free agent after this season, but their willingness to spend money will likely be impacted by how much they lose this season. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Springer, a Connecticut native who played baseball with Matt Barnes at UConn, seems like the most logical free agent target because he’s an elite hitter who’s not as expensive as Betts. But the right fielder/center fielder reportedly has received clear indications the Astros want to extend him. The Astros’ ability to re-sign him, though, might hinge on whether players take further salary cuts in 2020.

Castellanos, Ozuna, Joc Pederson, Michael Brantley and Enrique Hernandez also are pending free agent outfield options.

The Red Sox, under normal circumstances, presumably would have made an attempt to bring back Betts. That seems less and less likely now.

WEEI’s Lou Merloni reported in January the Red Sox offered Betts a 10-year, $300-million contract last offseason (after his 2018 AL MVP campaign), and he countered with 12 years, $420 million.

Betts’ market should be the most fascinating offseason storyline. The Dodgers remain the favorite to sign him, but would they outbid themselves?

Betts and other top free agents might find themselves in a situation where they are better off signing one-year contracts, and then reentering the market after the 2021 season.

Starting pitching also will be a need for the Red Sox, with Chris Sale likely to miss at least some of the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery March 30.

Martin Perez has a $6.25 million team option and $500,000 buyout for 2021.

After Bauer, Ray and Stroman, other pending free agents include Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Quintana, Mike Minor, Jake Arrieta, Anthony DeSclafani and Taijuan Walker.

Corey Kluber and Jon Lester have club options. Lester, speaking with WEEI.com, expressed interest in returning to Boston to finish his career where it started.

It’s possible more pending free agents will be open to accepting qualifying offers and waiting a year for the financial market to recoup.

We could see more club options declined as teams look for ways to save money as they recover financially. That would expand the uncertain free agent market.

Another storyline to watch: J.D. Martinez has another opt-out clause in his contract after 2020. His salary drops from $23.75 million to $19.35 million in 2021. It initially seemed like this offseason would be the time for him to walk. But now he might stay because of an uncertain market.


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