One of the many tangled unknowns in this altered year of 2020 in Major League Baseball is the immediate fate of the First-Year Player Draft, commonly known as the amateur draft. The annual event, in which all 30 organizations select approximately 40 players each, is currently scheduled June 8-10 in Omaha, Nebraska. It was to be held in conjunction with the College World Series, which has been canceled along with all NCAA spring sports.
In an article this week, the AP’s Ronald Blum shared information that MLB is considering skipping the 2020 draft entirely, as well as putting off the upcoming July 2nd international signing class.
For example, the MLB Players Association is reportedly pushing for full service time for its members for the 2020 season, even if some or all games are not played. This could have a significant impact on MLB in the short term (as salaries increase via arbitration and free agency remains on schedule) and in the long term (pension).
The annual expense MLB teams accrue in aggregate in signing amateur players is estimated to be $400 million, per Blum. That seems in the right vicinity, as in 2019, signing pools for the first 10 rounds of the draft totaled over $266 million alone.
In this year of decreased revenues, a $400 million savings on today’s amateurs and potentially soon-to-be minor leaguers – none of whom have any bargaining representation – could have tremendous appeal to the Lords of Baseball.
The impact on the professional player pipeline and those potentially ready to enter it could be diminished by the NCAA providing an extra year of eligibility to those players in the spring sports canceled in 2020. The implications to graduating high school seniors, a secondary source of amateur talent, are less clear.
Another consideration to keep in the back of our minds is MLB’s minor league contraction plan, to remove 42 teams and their associated players from affiliated ball starting in 2021. This action could eliminate up to 1,470 player jobs (35-man short-season rosters times 42 teams) – and of course their salaries.
Part of that proposal is reportedly a drastic reduction in the length of the First-Year Player Draft, by as much as half, starting in June 2021.
If the 2020 draft is called off, it would keep roughly 40 more players per organization out of the pipeline currently, while beginning the transition to both smaller farm systems and a shorter draft starting next year – while by the way, chopping $400 million off the 2020 expense line.
The contraction plan has not been finalized, but neither has consolidated opposition formed that may be strong enough to stop MLB.
No one can accurately predict where any of this will go, but the ramifications of decisions made in 2020 could have long-term effects to the game as we have known it.
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