It’s important to remember that the vast majority of ballplayers don’t earn millions and likely never will. Non-blue-chip minor leaguers and incoming professionals have long been disadvantaged relative to established big leaguers, and that’s true all the more now.
The re-worked Rule 4 draft drastically curtailed the amount of money available to draft-eligible amateur players. In addition to deferring payouts and cutting the forty-round process to just five rounds, the draft capped signing bonuses for undrafted players at just $20K.
Now, some teams are looking to carve out yet further concessions from amateur talent, as Kyle Glaser of Baseball America reports. Glaser reports, based upon sources at top agencies, that “at least four teams were offering nondrafted players, as well as a few drafted players, contracts for 2021 rather than 2020.”
The idea here is evidently to obtain the rights to the player while delaying his entry to the team’s system. That means pushing back the point at which a player would reach minor-league free agency — a rule designed to create upward pressure in a farm system. (Notably, Glaser corrects the initial report, clarifying that the timing of eventual Rule 5 eligibility would remain unchanged.)
In essence, this is another form of service manipulation. While the potential lack of a 2020 minor-league campaign provides some theoretical cover, it seems hard to justify this approach — particularly for players that are now bound to a given team because they were selected in the draft.
It’s certainly worth reading Glaser’s story for his account of the early stages of the undrafted free agent process. The dizzying recruitment period has mostly resulted in deals for collegiate seniors, as you’d expect. And as he explains, it isn’t over, as players that weren’t selected will remain eligible to sign as free agents until the week before the 2021 draft (if they haven’t already chosen to suit up in the collegiate ranks).