MLB looking at canceling 2020 draft; why such a move makes sense

MLB reportedly is looking at ways of cutting costs as it confronts not having games until at least May because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

One attention-grabbing option reported late Wednesday by The Associated Press: canceling this year’s amateur draft and adjusting the international signing period. The draft is scheduled for mid-June in Omaha, Neb., site of the now-canceled College World Series. The new signing period begins July 2.

It’s unclear whether draft-eligible players could still sign as free agents instead of being selected. This option would be important for pitchers in particular considering the frequency of injuries at the position and possible lost income should they be forced to remain an amateur and then hurt an elbow or shoulder.

Assuming top-tier talent is not shortchanged, here’s a quick analysis of why MLB should cancel:

It makes sense from a baseball standpoint

Prospects have had their high school or college seasons interrupted or canceled because of safety concerns surrouding the virus, so scouts and teams won’t be able to make further evaluations leading up to the draft. Players aren’t able to improve their skills in game competition, either, something that could help a borderline prospect. Some college players will get the chance to try again in 2021 if the NCAA, as expected grants them an extra year of eligibility.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES: Cancellations amid the pandemic

Less game action adds uncertainty for teams, who gamble every year on 40 or so amateurs in the hope that some of them will become top-flight major leaguers.

It’s a worthwhile business move

The AP reported that the 30 MLB clubs spend about $400 million a year combined on signing bonuses for amateur players. Draft picks receive the majority of that money, with seven-figure bonuses set aside for first-rounders. Again, teams won’t be as comfortable investing in players who haven’t played a full amateur season. 

International spending has been capped and spread out evenly among clubs in recent years to promote competitive balance in the $10 billion industry; according to figures from Baseball America, teams have $166.2 million, or about $5.5 million per team, to spend for the 2019-20 signing period, which ends June 15.

Draft and international signing rules are subject to collective bargaining, and so MLB is in discussions with the MLB Players Association about these possible changes as well as multiple other financial aspects of the CBA, including advancing money to MLB players, who don’t receive checks until after the season starts.

The AP pointed out that MLB could unilaterally change the CBA based on the national emergency that is in effect because of the global coronavirus pandemic.

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