Major League Baseball intends to cut its 2020 First-Year Player Draft from the prior 40-round format to just five rounds, according to multiple reports.
The ability to reduce the Draft was negotiated with the MLB Players Association as part of an agreement struck in March to cover various issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The shift will result in just 160 players set to be drafted this year when including supplemental picks, by far the lowest number since annual Draft began in 1965.
The stark Draft reduction will also eliminate nearly $30m in signing bonus money that would have been paid by clubs, resulting a roughly $1m savings per team. Undrafted players can be drafted in unlimited numbers for a maximum signing bonus of $20,000 each.
That financial savings does represent a small aid to clubs that have seen gate revenues fall to nothing as the entire MLB season remains on hold due to the public health crisis. But numerous player agents still decried the move, believing the savings will be minimal relative to baseball’s overall economics and help drive talented young athletes to other sports.
“Particularly given the negligible economic impact to what’s already a cheap acquisition cost [for talent], that approach is grossly shortsighted,” said Jeff Berry, co-head of CAA Baseball, to the Associated Press. “To drastically reduce opportunity and talent and talent pools, it stunts growth and diversity at all levels and is really a self-inflicted sabotage of the long-term health and popularity of the game.”
Though the MLB Draft generates nowhere near the massive levels of fan engagement that the National Football League does for its Draft, it remains a key source of new talent acquisition.
Signing bonuses for draftees will also be significantly deferred over the next two years, with a maximum of $100,000 per drafted player to be paid within 30 days of their signing a contract, and the rest of the bonuses paid in 2021 and 2022. The league still intends to hold the Draft next month, though prior plans to hold it in Omaha, Nebraska as part of the College World Series were canceled.
The Draft format shift comes as MLB is expected this week to present a more formal proposal to the MLBPA regarding a resumption of the 2020 season. A conference call among the owners will be held on May 11 to discuss potential resumption measures, and The Athletic reported the league is hovering toward a regionally based game model that would see roughly 81 games, representing half of a normal MLB season, being played at home parks at least initially without fans. The regionalization would be done with an eye toward reducing team travel.
If local jurisdictions related to Covid-19 prevent the use of home parks, Spring Training facilities could be employed.