As the effects of Coronavirus continue to be felt around the globe, the sports world continues its planning towards resuming its regular seasons and in the case of Major League Baseball, beginning its regular season. Reports have surfaced that Major League Baseball will consider putting the 2020 Amateur Draft on hold as well as putting off next year’s international signing period, which takes place from July 2 through June 15 of the following year.
MLB’s Amateur Draft usually takes place each June out of the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. However, this year’s draft was a special one, with the event to take place in Omaha, NE, just before the College World Series, which takes place there every year.
Rule 4 of the MLB Rules dictates that “[p]layers are eligible to be selected in the First-Year Player Draft if they are eligible to sign a contract under the provisions of the applicable High School, College, or Junior College Rules on the on the date of the First-Year Player Draft or within 45 days of the conclusion of the Draft and have not notified the Office of the Commissioner of their desire not to be selected.”
All NCAA college baseball programs, and most high school programs, have shut down, thereby making it nearly impossible to scout draft-eligible players. Moreover, most MLB Scouts have been called back to their team’s cities, or their respective home cities, as a result of the pandemic.
There has been an effort to post film online for scouts to view from outlets such as the popular Twitter account Pitching Ninja, as well as many player’s own social media accounts. Although this provides some tape for teams to make educated decisions on Draft Day, it cannot replace the value of seeing a player perform in person.
Foregoing the Draft would have monumental consequences on the MLB moving forward – it is a move that is unprecedented, albeit in unprecedented times. However, the NCAA has already suspended its spring sports line-up and has offered Seniors another year of eligibility in order to play a full final season in college.
The effect of foregoing the 2020 Draft is more than just the elimination of a new class of players from Major League clubs, it helps team’s save money by holding back signing bonuses and salaries for these new players as well. This money can be allocated to paying Minor Leaguers, gameday staff, and administrative employees, among others.
The AP also reported that MLB has proposed altering player’s service time to 130 days from the typical 172 days which equals 1 year of service time for purposes of determining free agency and salary arbitration eligibility, as defined by the CBA. The Union, on the other hand, has reportedly proposed that a full season of service time should be rewarded no matter how many games are played this season.
Service time is important in this instance because it effect’s a player’s arbitration eligibility (at least 3 years of service time but no more than 6) and free agency status (6 or more years of service time). The quicker a player can get to arbitration the quicker his salary will rise from the base levels made in a player’s first 1-3 years in the league.
In any event, the MLB and the Union have a number of issues to work out before we hit Opening Day 2020. Although eliminating the Draft may be a last resort, teams must come up with creative ways to meet expenses, especially with no concrete plan in place to start the season.