May 12, 2020 - Sports

The cost of MLB's shortened draft

Data: Baseball Reference; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The 2020 MLB draft will total just five rounds, making it the smallest draft in league history.

Why it matters: Cutting the draft from 40 rounds down to five means just 150 amateurs will be selected instead of the customary 1,200, dramatically decreasing the newest crop of pros and causing a ripple effect through all levels of baseball.

  • Hundreds more prospects than usual will be funneled into a college system currently suffering its own financial meltdown, while simultaneously cutting off farm systems' most cost-efficient source of talent.

Details: Drafted players' signing bonuses will remain unchanged from 2019, but they'll be heavily deferred ($100,000 maximum in 2020, with remainder paid out across 2021-22). For reference, first through fifth round picks tend to earn bonuses ranging from $250,000 to $8 million.

  • Undrafted players' bonuses, meanwhile, are capped at $20,000. So, although teams can sign an unlimited number of undrafted free agents, it's unlikely many amateurs will accept such a pittance (sixth rounders generally earn closer to $200,000, and even tenth rounders can fetch a $100,000 bonus).

The big picture: As outlined in the table above, the most obvious impact comes in the form of those future stars who, under this year's rules, wouldn't even get drafted. But to field competitive teams, the league needs far more than just stars.

  • Of the 1,410 players who played at least one MLB game last year, 1,046 of them entered the league via the draft (74%). And 46% of those players were selected after the fifth round.

The bottom line: There was never going to be a universally acceptable solution to a problem this big, but there are concerns that MLB is merely kicking the can down the road for their future selves to worry about.

  • As super-agent Scott Boras said upon learning of this deal: "We probably should have bought a billboard that said, 'Go play other sports after Little League. Goodbye.'"

Go deeper: Fantasy baseball rolls on despite coronavirus-delayed season

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