There are more hurdles than just scheduling for both Major League Baseball and its labor union to overcome when trying to figure out how to handle a shortened or possibly canceled season. One of the major obstacles was figuring out service time, so that players would have an accurate idea as to how close they were to entering free agency or arbitration and whether it would be delayed or not. It appears that’s been figured out, and it appears it’s been at the expense of players who don’t have a voice—amateur ones.
Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the league and union were coming together to negotiate an agreement on what to do about service time. It appears that players would get a full year of service time if they remain active throughout the duration of the upcoming season. They’ve tabled negotiations on how to handle things if the season gets banged entirely.
Some parties may be aggrieved. There may be teams that will only get parts of a season, and maybe a small one at that, from a player who will then bolt in free agency (Hi, Mookie!) Or those who will see players become more expensive without the benefit of all the cost-controlled time that teams were expecting. it seems the players are going to let the owners make that up by not paying draftees.
The report says the draft will be moved to July, and that draftees will end up deferring 90 percent of their signing bonuses, with half of the deferment being paid next year and the other half the year after that. The draft will also be shortened to possibly five rounds—or 10, or somewhere in between—and there will be a $10,000 cap on undrafted players’ signing bonuses. This seems convenient when so many players will go undrafted this summer, considering the shortened draft. For reference, the last draft was 40 rounds. Adding compensatory picks, that can be more than 900 players that go undrafted this summer.
It’s easy to see what’s going on here. Owners stand to make less money this year due to missed games, so they’ve asserted that they’d need to spend less on the draft to help compensate.
The actual savings here are disputable, as the CBA limited teams to a median of $8 million in bonuses for a draft anyway. As Craig Calcaterra points out, this might just be a play-action to achieve the shrinking of the minor leagues the owners have been pushing for recently. With teams now adding significantly fewer players to their system this season, they may feel even more compelled to shrink that system.
It feels like the union has sold out its amateur brethren. This is not the first time that they’ve done so, and it’s always been in the hopes that the cash no longer allowed to flow to draftees and amateur players would then be spent on veterans. As we all know, that’s worked out great.
The value of what the owners save with a shortened draft commensurate with the losses incurred by players’ service time affected by an abbreviated season. If you throw in what we know about what the owners would like to do to the minor leagues and combine that with the fact that you should never trust the owners as far as you could throw them with a lacrosse stick, you’d be excused for thinking there’s more afoot here than just saving a million or two on the draft.