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Thursday Bantering: MLB Dodging the Draft?

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Pittsburgh Pirates Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ronald Blum of the AP reported yesterday that MLB is considering cancelling this year’s draft and putting off the new international free agent signing period scheduled to begin on July 2. The idea is to save money for clubs who don’t have much cash coming in with the season suspended indefinitely. Some clubs are reportedly worried about having to lay off salaried office workers. Teams’ draft bonus pools add up to approximately $267 million, with overages and bonuses for players outside the first 10 rounds likely pushing the draft’s cost to or a little past $300 million. International bonus pools last year totaled about $166 million.

I have to say, that sounds like a pretty extreme idea. I’m sure there are some teams who might struggle to come up with $10-20m in cash right now, but then a profitable business worth more than a billion dollars should have no trouble borrowing that much at cheap rates if it comes down to it. Plus, from a safety point of view, the draft is one event that there’s not particular reason to worry about. It doesn’t really draw crowds the way the NFL, NBA, or NHL ones usually do, and most of the action actually takes place on an assortment of conference calls anyway.

If they did cancel the draft, it would have some strange knock on effects. College baseball would get insanely competitive next year, with a crop of this year’s best high schoolers who would not typically make it to campus looking for a place to play next spring, and this year’s juniors and seniors taking advantage of the NCAA’s offer of additional eligibility to stick around another season. That would hurt players who aren’t top 10 round talents, who might no longer be able to land a share of each team’s 11.7 scholarship spaces. It would also create a mega draft class next summer. A lot of players who might get big bonuses this year or next with two drafts would have to settle for a lot less.

Internationally, it would be hard on a lot of families who have a lot riding on their son earning a significant signing bonus as a way out of poverty. Most prominent players have probably had a handshake deal with a team for more than a year, and that money falling though could be a real problem for some. As with the draft, it would probably create a situation where in 2021 twice as many players competed for pool money and a lot would be unable to get the bonus they would have otherwise. MLB could alleviate this by raising draft and IFA pool amounts, but the lost revenue from this spring and summer isn’t coming back, so if teams don’t feel like spending now I can’t see them feeling generous next year either.

On the professional side, it would create a void of talent at the bottom levels of the minor leagues. Short season ball and the Dominican Summer League could just be cancelled, but then in 2021, would raw draftees have to jump straight into A ball? Who fills those rosters in the months before the draft? In the end, a side effect of cancelling the draft and IFA might be killing off some leagues in the low minors. If the Appalachian and Pioneer leagues don’t have a 2020 season, enough teams may fold that there’s no way to play in 2021, either. At the end of the day, that may be as big a factor as the cost of the draft pools for MLB. We know they want to cull the low minors, and this may be their way of doing it while claiming it isn’t their fault.

In lighter news, Reese McGuire’s court date was pushed pack to April 20. Congrats Reese. Please be careful how you choose to celebrate.

With no current or near future baseball to think about, Ken Burns has thoughtfully provided us with a historical substitute. His phenomenal documentary series Baseball is streaming for free on PBS’s website and apparently will also be on a variety of streaming services. I’ve watched Baseball all the way through three times over the years, and a couple months of social distancing is the perfect excuse for a fourth.