MLB draft drastically slimmed down in cost-saving move

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In the latest example of MLB and the Players Association being unable to work well together, the Commissioner’s Office is implementing a five-round draft to be held June 10-11 after being unable to entice the union with its proposal for a 10-round process.

As part of the MLB/Players Association agreement of March 26, commissioner Rob Manfred had it within his power to drop the 40-round draft to as few as five rounds and push the date to as late as July 20.

MLB proposed to the union 10 rounds, but that rounds 6-10 would have half the slot value as last year and that teams would be limited to signing just five non-drafted players for a maximum of $20,000. Agents, in particular, found both of those items unsatisfactory, especially because the union felt that the March 26 agreement spelled out staying at the slot value of last season for however long the draft would be.

The agents believe that baseball operations departments very much wanted the 10-round draft, but that a bloc of owners wanted the financial savings — believed to average about $1 million per team — of a five-round draft as franchises deal with so much lost revenue inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Without an agreement with the union, the Commissioner’s Office implemented the five-round draft. Nevertheless, teams will be able to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for the $20,000 maximum.

The expectation of agents is that teams will particularly try to limit the bonuses to fourth- and fifth-round picks, who normally still get several hundred thousand dollars under the implied threat they take the lower bonuses or risk dropping all the way down to the $20,000 non-drafted maximum. There is an expectation this will lead to many high school players who would have been picked after the third round deciding to go to college instead and wait for a better day.

The draft is a small issue compared to what the union and MLB have in front of them next — deciding how players should get paid if the sport comes back this year. The union has said that was decided in the March 26 agreement — that players will get a prorated total of their salaries for games played. MLB said the agreement calls for reassessment of player pay if there is no attendance (and revenue from that) for games. MLB is expected to send the union a plan on this issue and how to restart the sport next week.

Will the contentious sides be able to find common ground there?

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