Kyler Murray
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Could rigors of minor leagues influence Kyler Murray’s decision to pursue baseball career?

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Much has been made about Athletics 2018 first-round draft pick Kyler Murray, who won the 2018 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, and his decision whether or not to pursue a baseball career. Last month, it appeared the outfielder was still on track to join the Athletics’ minor league system. Pundits have had ongoing debates about which decision makes more sense for Murray. Baseball causes less trauma to the body, especially the head, and the contracts are guaranteed. Football would ostensibly provide more up-front money and a better shot at stardom.

The calculus could go beyond that, as former two-sport athlete Drew Henson pointed out in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Wednesday. Henson said:

Baseball, it really is a grind. It’s a mental challenge every day and every week. Things that carry over physically from a baseball/football standpoint, playing quarterback, the daily grind and the daily routine couldn’t be much different from the hours you’re at the yard or the park or the facility to, like you said, your mid-level hotels, taking buses around whatever part of the country you’re playing in, minimal fanfare, small groups of fans. You really have to be self-motivated. Whereas on the football side, you’re just stepping into a primetime game every week and he’s coming off of this rollercoaster of emotion playing this year at Oklahoma. Those are real things when you’re in your 20’s and you’re ready to jump on every challenge to overcome on your developmental path if it’s the major leagues. He knows to be prepared in Binghamton watching Monday Night Football with his teammates and former teammates in terms of playing in the NFL. That’s also something to consider.

The prospect of slumming it in the minor leagues could certainly influence Murray’s choice of baseball or football. Minor league life, as we have mentioned here ad nauseam, is anything but glamorous. Henson hits a lot of the key points: travel by bus (as opposed to first-class on a plane), smaller crowds (and in some cases, mostly-empty stadiums), and the path to stardom is not nearly as short nor as guaranteed.

Murray did get a $5 million signing bonus from the Athletics, which would help make minor league life much more tolerable. But he would still have to ride the same buses, sleep in the same motels (unless he decides to shell out his own money for a hotel and sleep separately from his teammates), eat from the same post-game spreads, and play in the same stadiums with 5,000 or so fans per game — if that. Murray might be asked or even expected to cover some of his teammates’ luxuries throughout the years, similar to how veterans who get sent to the minors on rehab assignments typically upgrade the spread or otherwise treat everyone to dinner.

Baseball players also tend to be asked to put in a lot of unpaid overtime — as Henson alludes — something which was codified into law last March when minor leaguers were classified as seasonal workers and therefore exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This made them ineligible for a minimum wage and overtime pay. Many minor leaguers make less than $10,000 per year. While Murray could presumably get by with his signing bonus, he would still be asked to come early to the ballpark and stay late for no immediate reward. It’s one thing to stay late and study film as a professional in a major city; it’s an entirely different thing to do it in Beloit, Wisconsin, home of the Athletics’ Single-A affiliate. Murray is a human being, after all.

If the sad circumstances of minor league life help steer Murray towards an NFL career, Major League Baseball should be embarrassed. MLB should already be embarrassed that it’s even a consideration. If nothing else, this should serve as a wake-up call for the league to improve minor league standards across the board, starting with pay but also including all facets of healthcare and nutrition, as well as travel and housing arrangements. From a strictly business standpoint, MLB should want to attract and maintain the best athletes. Given the state of the minor leagues right now, the league isn’t doing a great job of that. No one would blame Murray if he decides to pursue a career in the NFL instead.

Royals sign Drew Storen to minor league deal

Drew Storen
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The Royals are in agreement with right-handed reliever Drew Storen on a minor league deal, the team announced Friday. Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the deal is worth $1.25 million if the veteran righty breaks camp with the club this spring. Additional, albeit unspecified incentives will be included in the contract as well.

Storen, 31, is coming off of a protracted absence from any MLB duties. After inking a one-year deal with the Reds in 2017, he sustained a right elbow sprain toward the end of the year and underwent Tommy John surgery that October. He was effectively decommissioned for the club’s entire 2018 run and generated little interest around the league this winter, perhaps due in part to the uninspired 4.45 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, 7.9 SO/9, and career-low -0.2 fWAR he posted across 54 2/3 innings during his last healthy season.

While it’s not immediately clear what kind of performance the Royals can expect from Storen in spring training, they’re not exactly in a position to be choosy. Their bullpen ranked dead last among all MLB teams with a collective 5.04 ERA, 4.85 FIP, and -2.2 fWAR last year, and still appears to be in a state of flux as they approach Opening Day. Skipper Ned Yost told reporters Wednesday that he intends to eschew the traditional closer appointment in 2019 and will instead utilize a combination of right-handers Wily Peralta and Brad Boxberger, lefty Tim Hill, and various others as he tackles high-leverage situations in the future.