Major League Baseball will cut its 2020 draft to five rounds, as owners looking to save costs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic pushed for fewer rounds over the objection of front-office officials, sources told ESPN.
The plan, which has been relayed to scouting directors, will allow teams to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for $20,000. The draft is expected to begin June 10.
An agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association in March allowed the league to reduce the draft from its typical 40 rounds to as few as five. The agreement allows teams to delay signing bonuses, with a maximum of $100,000 to be paid within 30 days of a player signing, 50% of the remainder due July 1, 2021, and the leftover due July 1, 2022.
The fallout from the decision could have a significant effect on professional and amateur baseball. Owners have long sought a shorter draft in spite of general managers and player-development personnel arguing that the domestic draft offers the greatest amount of surplus value compared to cost.
The cutting of the draft coincides with the proposed elimination of a quarter of minor league teams, a measure that has drawn significant criticism.
Those critics doubled down following the news that the draft would be only five rounds. Eliminating the sixth through 10th rounds will save teams a combined $29,578,100 in slot value — less than $1 million per team, and less than $500,000 in actual cash with the new signing-bonus rules.
The news serves as a lead-in to the discussions between the league and MLBPA next week on a return-to-play proposal MLB is expected to deliver Tuesday. The previous formal offer between the sides concerned the draft in late April, when MLB offered a 10-round draft — with the slot values from the sixth through 10th rounds half the size of the agreed-upon amount and the number of $20,000 signings limited to five. The union rejected the proposal, precipitating the league settling on five rounds.
Though the college baseball world had anticipated five rounds, it will scramble to figure out how to balance its limited scholarships, a potential influx of freshmen and the desires of draft-eligible juniors — and seniors, after the NCAA restored eligibility to spring athletes upon canceling the 2020 season — to forgo $20,000 bonuses and return to school.
The 2020 minor league season could be in jeopardy as well, with multiple farm directors saying they believe prospects would spend their seasons at teams’ complexes in Arizona and Florida instead of minor league affiliates, who would lose money running games without fans.
In addition to shortening the draft, the March agreement allows MLB to delay the opening of the international signing period from July 2 to as late as Jan. 15. The league has yet to inform teams when the signing period will begin.
MLB last shortened the draft in 2012, when it went from 50 rounds to 40.