by David Rawnsley
When Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Players Union unveiled the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) last November, it guaranteed that professional baseball will surpass two decades of labor peace before the next negotiations are needed. Most of the attention given to the new CBA has been focused on how changes in the rules that govern the business of the game affect MLB players, but some of the most profound changes actually have to do with the annual June Draft.
The biggest change is that each MLB team now has a pre-determined pool of money to sign players, based on where they pick in the draft and how many extra picks they have from losing free agents or not signing draft picks from the previous year. The bonus pools are determined by adding up the team’s picks in the top 10 rounds according a sliding scale (starts at $7.2M for the first overall pick and goes down to $125,000 for the last pick in the 10th round, with the value of picks after the 10 th round being capped at $100,000).
While teams have the option to spend more than their bonus pools, the penalties for exceeding the pool amount by more than 5% are so severe, including the loss of future first round draft picks, that few people in baseball feel any team will go in that direction.
The CBA and the new draft rules have the chance to make a profound impact on college baseball. The MLB has long been envious of the NFL’s player development plan, which boils down to football players developing while playing in college. NFL teams incur no expenses for this type of player development, while MLB teams spend tens of millions of dollars running minor league systems. The MLB would certainly like to push more of its development costs to college baseball wherever possible; high school prospects are more expensive to sign, take longer to develop, and come with more risk than similarly talented college players.
No one really knows how things will evolve, but it seems that the biggest impact on college baseball will be one that the MLB has intended all along. Due to limitations on spending flexibility, it is almost a guarantee that there will be more high school players who don’t end up signing (or perhaps don’t even get drafted) than ever before.
More talented players are a positive for college baseball in every way. Not only will the overall quality of play better, but there will be more well-known players for fans and media to focus their attention on.
While college coaches undoubtedly appreciate this potential impact, they are likely most enthusiastic about the change in the signing deadline. Up until 2007, all players were eligible to sign until they physically stepped into a classroom in the fall, creating many situations with prospects not attending class due to negotiations.
From 2007-2011, the draft operated under a “hard” deadline of August 15 for signing a contract, giving colleges a few days or weeks of certainty and time to scramble to fill in the blanks.
With the new CBA, the deadline has been moved up nearly a month to a floating date between July 12 and July 17 (depending on the All-Star Game date- this year’s deadline is July 13). While this change was not negotiated at the forefront, it is of huge importance to college programs, who will have 34 extra days to go on the secondary recruiting market and fill their rosters.
No one will be sure how this draft will pan out until after July 13 has passed, but one thing is for sure: the CBA will do great things for college baseball.