A's Stars Semien, Canha and Fiers might have had Very Different Careers if New Draft Plan had Been Around Back Then

John Hickey

The deal that Major League Baseball and the players’ association both signed off on in the last 24 hours seems to do what it can to put baseball in position to have a season of decent length in the wake of a global pandemic.

Some of the details that have trickled out, however, are a little alarming for the future of the sport.

Owners have been trying to whittle down the number of minor league teams they have to deal with, and a small component of the deal, ratified by the players Thursday night and signed off on unanimously by the owners Friday, helps them do just that.

The agreement, negotiated the last two weeks with baseball in a shutdown made necessary by the arrival of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, gives MLB the right to shorten the baseball draft from 40 rounds to five.

Bonus money for players taken in this June’s draft will be doled out over the next three calendar years. And non-drafted players can only receive $20,000 – the number had been $125,000 – before counting against a team’s allotment.

That’s going to be really bad for collegiate player who aren’t projected as top-line stars. Take the A’s Marcus Semien (a 6-round draftee), Mark Canha (7 round), Robbie Grossman (6 round), Ramon Laureano (13 round) and Mike Fiers (22 round).

Right now, they are part of a dynamic Oakland A’s roster. But how would their careers be different if they were undrafted after their junior years in college? Would they have had to go back to college for their senior years to try to improve their standing, knowing they wouldn’t have the same negotiating power as a senior?

These are temporary rules only impacting the draft this year and next, to be sure, and are being undertaken in a time of pandemic and economic uncertainty. But it’s reasonable to assume the owners will use these as a basis to beginning the bargaining conversation the next time negotiations come up. Undrafted players in every sport get less money. More than that, without clubs investing in those players, the undrafted guys become more expendable.

Other key bits from the package:

--Players and MLB agreed that the 2020 season won’t begin until there are no bans on mass gatherings that limit the ability to play in front of fans, until there are no travel restrictions and until medical specialists determine that games will not pose a risk to the help of teams and fans. Addendums to the deal say players and MLB will consider playing games at neutral sites and will consider playing in empty stadiums if it makes sense.

--Teams can’t trade draft picks or international slots used to sign talent from places other than North America.

--Drug suspensions already meted out or those that will crop up will be served in 2020. But if there is no season, the suspensions won’t carry over to 2021.

--The 2020 schedule, however it shapes up, has to be agreed to by both sides.

--The regular season can be extended until Oct. 31, which would be 31 additional dates beyond the regularly scheduled season.

--The postseason might be expanded, and there’s an opening for the postseason to played, at least in part, in neutral sites.

--Once the owners agreed, all transaction were frozen. The date when deals again can be made will have to be agreed on by both sides.

--Roster sizes can expand, at least for season’s start, similar to the way rosters were bumped up after players came back after the 1994-95 strike. 

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