For as long as I can remember – which goes back to 2006 when I began writing about baseball – the Major League Baseball Players Association has been dealing away the rights of players who weren’t in the players association in exchange for benefits for those who were in the players association. Over the last decade, though, it’s seemingly been taken to another level against non-professional players, too. It’s not just the minor leaguers who were having their rights negotiated away anymore – players looking to join professional baseball now were under attack.
In the last decade we’ve seen the draft go from uncapped spending to capped spending. We’ve seen international spending go from uncapped, to “you pay a penalty if you go over our recommendation”, to “you absolutely can not spend more than this cap”. And they’ve also set it so international players from other professional leagues around the world can’t be free agents like they used to unless they have spent at least five full seasons as a professional in another league around the world.
In the last week we saw where Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to alter the 2020 and 2021 drafts and how many rounds there are, as well as how undrafted players can be handled (signings can only go up to $20,000). Zach Buchanan of The Athletic asked Arizona Diamondbacks union representative Nick Ahmed about a whole lot of issues in his piece published yesterday. But one of the things he asked about was about the draft. Here was the question, and the answer:
One area the deal has been criticized is the effect it has on amateur players and the draft, which can be shortened to just five rounds. As the union was trying to hash out those issues with the league, how did you weigh the concerns of amateurs, who are not union members, against those of your actual membership?
That was tough. No one wants to not have a full draft. I have a bunch of buddies who are college seniors, some guys who train at the same gym where I train at home, guys that went to UConn that I’ve gotten to know over the years. I just feel for those guys. The opportunity that they’re not going to get now is tough. It was a really tough situation. We were fighting to keep as much of the draft as we could. Just from a financial perspective, it was something that MLB wasn’t comfortable with. We gave on that a little bit. We fought for as much as we could, I guess. Hopefully, there’s going to be the right guys drafted, the guys that love the game and are going to give it their all and are going to make it. But it is tough just knowing there’s going to be guys who would have been drafted in later rounds. Think of how many guys in the big leagues right now who were drafted after the fifth round? There’s so many of those guys. It’s going to be a big effect this year. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate.
Let’s start off with the “saved money” aspect of the comment. Absolutely, Major League Baseball is looking to save money wherever they can. They are going to be making less money this year than they were planning on. Just like the rest of us, probably. We’re all going to be hit by this in one way or the other. With the draft being limited to five rounds – with bonus pools being the same as last year – let’s run the numbers. There are 160 draft picks this year in rounds 1-5. Let’s assume that since teams don’t need to “game the system” with draft picks because they can’t spend on guys beyond the 10th round anymore, they just draft the best 160 players. Last year the top 160 players, by signing bonus, got a combined $241,840,699. That ranged from $400,000 up to $8,100,000 for Adley Rutschman at the #1 spot in the draft.
The remaining 800 players who signed last year got a combined $74,723,285. That is roughly what Major League Baseball will be “saving”. But not really. They are still going to sign some free agents, but with a $20,000 limit, the numbers are probably going to be really small overall – probably just a few million in total for all of baseball. Let’s make the math easy and say it’s $4,723,285 that the teams spend on free agents (That would be the equivalent of paying the full $20,000 to nearly 8 players per organization – a number that probably isn’t realistic on the high end). That takes us to $70,000,000 saved for all of Major League Baseball. There are 30 teams. This saves each team $2,333,333.33 each – on average. That’s not nothing. But it’s really not much of anything, either.
If five rounds of the draft was “as much as they could get”, as suggested, I have plenty of questions. The first one would be “if you fought to get five rounds, what on Earth was the first proposal on the table”? I’d follow up by asking if the $400 a week to minor leaguers was a “trade off” for the draft shortening.
In the end, it is sad. It is unfortunate. I’m glad that Zach Buchanan asked the question, and I’m glad that Nick Ahmed gave an answer. But the answer didn’t feel great, either. There are a lot of tough decisions that are being made by all of us. I get it. Just feels like another situation where the haves – in this case, the big leaguers who, for the most part, have already made millions upon millions of dollars, working to get just a little extra for them at the expense of the have-nots (the amateur players).