May 10, 2020
ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel reported May 8 evening that Major League Baseball will slash its amateur draft to five rounds for 2020. The draft usually consists of 40 rounds.
As JJ Cooper of Baseball America notes, last year the MLB draft had 1,217 players picked. This year 160 players will be selected once supplemental picks are added in. In 1996, the New York Yankees selected 100 players alone. As for talent, players selected in the sixth through tenth round over the past decade include Jacob deGrom, Dallas Keuchel, Paul Goldschmidt, Marcus Semien, Miles Mikolas, Whit Merrifield, Kyle Hendricks, Brian Dozier, Trey Mancini, Kendall Graveman, and Emilio Pagán.
Earlier reporting about draft negotiations suggested that draftees would be forced to defer 90% of their bonuses. They’d get 10% up front, with 45% paid in July of 2021 and the remaining 45% paid in July 2022. It’s not clear from this evening’s report if that deferral scenario has been agreed to in the new arrangement.
Beyond that, the new draft rules will allow teams to sign an unlimited number of un-drafted players for $20,000. For comparison, last year, sixth-round bonus slots ranged from a high of $301,600 to a low of $237,000. The smallest bonus through the first ten rounds of this year’s draft was slotted at $142,500.
Given the massive falloff in bonus money for comparable talent, scores if not hundreds of players who would otherwise be drafted will flock to junior colleges where they will be eligible to play for one year and re-enter next year’s draft, which will be far more crowded even if they expand it back up to 40 rounds (don’t bet on that happening). Other players will decide to go to four-year colleges and put off a professional career, though obviously not all players who might’ve been drafted this year will be able to find such slots.
Of the players who do not or cannot go to college, many will be forced, due to the low bonuses, to work full-time jobs in the offseason to make ends meet, detracting from their training regimens. That has always been necessary for amateur free agents or late-round draftees, but now it will be the case for frontline talent as well. Other players may leave the U.S. and attempt to catch on in Japan, Korea, or Taiwan. Many players may give up playing baseball entirely. Regardless of where any specific player goes, this will, overall, reduce the amount of talent in American professional baseball.
Why? To save money.
The decision to slash the draft to five rounds comes after weeks of discussion between MLB and the MLBPA. The union had previously agreed to the possibility of a draft as short as five rounds, but was hoping for a 10-round draft during talks. It’s been widely reported in the past several days that baseball operations departments were hoping for a 10-round draft as well, but that the five-round draft was an “owner-driven decision.”
Practically speaking, however, once the MLBPA gave the owners the green light to cut the draft to as few as five rounds, there was little doubt the owners would do it, as the owners have long sought to cut the amount of money spent on amateur talent acquisition. There’s a reason ownership sought and obtained a cap on draftee bonuses several years ago. There’s also a reason the MLBPA gave it to them willingly: they thought the savings would be passed along to veteran players. That that did not occur and that the MLBPA still gave the green light to owners to cut the draft to five is rather mind-boggling.
Given that the cost savings to owners via this move is, at best, a million or two million per team, it’s hard to see how these measures bear any reasonable connection to the current crisis. It’s not that much money, even with the disruption to the 2020 season. In light of that, it seems to represent nothing more than base opportunism on the part of Major League Baseball and its owners. And stands as yet another example of the MLBPA selling out non-members in a misguided effort to benefit its membership.
It’s bad for baseball to have fewer talented players. But beyond just that, it stinks. It stinks to high heavens.