MLB Could Nix Draft to Save Money, Service Time at Heart of Ongoing Talks

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it appears as though a few dozen billionaires may just get so hard up for cash that they’ve got to avoid paying out signing bonuses. The AP reported Wednesday that Major League Baseball is considering skipping the June draft and upcoming international signing period “as a way to preserve cash while games are affected by the new coronavirus.”

Not rescheduling, mind you, but flat-out canceling the whole shebang. As wild as that sounds, there are several factors mitigating what would otherwise strike a really ludicrous chord. The college baseball season has been canceled, with the NCAA granting an additional year of eligibility to players and removing scholarship limits for next season. That means there won’t be a wave of college seniors forced into limbo, provided their schools honor their scholarships for another year.

There’s also the matter of the scouting moratorium, enacted so that no teams can gain an unfair advantage during the current stoppage. Not that there’s anything to actually scout, other than KBO and NPB teams returning to action. But since MLB scouts have all been pulled off the road in light of coronavirus precautions and international travel bans, those leagues getting going again merely serves to provide hope that MLB can eventually do the same.

Trouble is, the reasoning for the potential draft’s cancellation doesn’t include any of those relevant factors. No, it’s apparently a matter of saving money. You know, the same money owners hope to make up on the back end by somehow cobbling together a full season in spite of a delayed start. Signing bonuses for draft picks run about $400 million in total annually, which seems like a big number until you realize that it breaks down to a laughably insignificant $13.33 million per team.

The draft isn’t the only area in which the league is hoping to get over on players, as service time is indeed proving to be as big an issue as we had assumed it would be. Per the AP’s sources, “MLB has proposed crediting full service for 130 games or more and proportional service for a shorter season,” the latter of which is essentially what I’d figured. The union, on the other hand, reportedly wants to guarantee a full year of service regardless of how many games are played.

Another matter being discussed is whether the league will advance money to players, since paychecks only flow during the regular season. Exactly how much money and to whom is all being negotiated, but it sure would be nice for the players to advocate for their non-union friends in the minors to get them paid in the interim as well. The kicker to all this is that the same provision that allows the commissioner to make exceptions to the rules on salary payments could also result in players losing on the service time front.

Baseball’s commissioner can suspend existing labor deals in the event of a national emergency that halts play, and we all know which side Rob Manfred is going to favor should it come to that. Taking a less biased view, the commissioner could attempt to broker peace by swapping early pay for concessions on service time. While the union would be foolish to entertain such an option, the gravity of the current situation might eliminate much of their bargaining power.

There are a variety of other issues at play as well, pretty much all of which come down to money in the end. It’d be nice to harbor the romantic notion that everyone will simply be so happy to get back to playing baseball that they’ll just push forward and get something done, but the reality of the situation is that this upheaval has essentially caused a premature CBA negotiation. Maybe the only positive about this extended moratorium is that it affords more time to iron out these matters of contention, though that offers little hope for the actual CBA talks that will commence following next season.

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