Major League Baseball has decided to shorten its amateur draft to five rounds, ESPN's Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel reported Friday.
The decision comes after weeks of discussion between MLB and the MLBPA during the league’s coronavirus shutdown. The union had previously agreed to the possibility of a draft as short as five rounds, but was pushing for a 10-round draft during talks. MLB’s draft usually consists of 40 rounds, but the owners wanted to trim that number in order to limit spending during the coronavirus shutdown.
In total, 160 players drafted with compensation rounds still included. The combined value of the signing bonus pool for those picks is $235,906,800. The amount of signing bonus pool money eliminated is $29,578,100. That the league went to these lengths to save less than $1 million per team isn’t sitting well with a lot of people.
There is a lot of disappointment from amateur players, front offices, scouting circles -- really everywhere -- in the decision to limit the 2020 draft to five rounds, and it comes down to this: The slot values for Rounds 6-10 total $29,578,100. That's less than $1 million a team.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 8, 2020
The league reportedly made its decision after the union rejected a proposal earlier in the week.
The players had maintained hope for a longer draft, which would allow more players to gain entry and start getting paid. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Ken Drelich reported that some teams were on board with a longer draft, since they were more interested in adding low cost talent than saving money. However, the support wasn't strong enough to gain approval.
What does this mean for undrafted players?
As for the hundreds of others who would have been drafted but won’t be in 2020, they will have a decision to make.
ESPN reports that players who go undrafted will be eligible to sign with any team for a maximum of $20,000.
The 2020 Major League Baseball draft will be five rounds, sources tell @kileymcd and me. All players who go undrafted would be eligible to sign for a maximum of $20,000. While there was a proposal to the union for a 10-round draft, the sides didn’t come to an agreement.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 8, 2020
This could take the shape of a post NFL draft, with legitimate high school and college prospects being courted by all 30 teams at a price lower than their projected draft position.
The key is the money. How many of those prospects will be content being paid less than what they could have potentially earned 10 or 15 rounds into the draft? And how many teams will sit on the money saved? That will determine whether there’s a signing frenzy in the hours immediately following the draft.
Which MLB team(s) will benefit the most?
That’s another interesting question.
Given the affordable price, the first thought is that traditionally low-spending teams, such as the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates, can finally compete for and sign a large crop of amateur players.
Unlike the other major sports, the draft is not the only way MLB teams can acquire amateur talent. The intentional signing period, for example, is often dominated by the big spenders, like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. The Marlins and Pirates can’t keep up there, but could fare better under these circumstances.
While that possibility exists, the players will ultimately dictate which teams they’re drawn to. That could be determined based on opportunity, sentiment, geography or any other number of factors.
As many astute fans are pointing out, it could also result in concerning incentives and promises being dangled in front of young players. The league will have to closely monitor how this process plays out, because some teams will no-doubt be determined to sign players they otherwise would not have an opportunity to sign.
Back to school?
For players with remaining college eligibility, this might be the preferred option in 2020. Particularly for returning seniors. They could use that one extra year to boost value and hope the circumstances improve. Though there’s no guarantee that will happen.
For incoming high school players, the decision could be more difficult. They have a three-year wait and might prefer to start their professional career now, rather than risking injury or devaluing their stock in college.
We already knew this MLB draft would be unlike any other we’ve experienced before. Now we know just how far-ranging those differences will be.
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