Before he was the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner as the quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners, Kyler Murray was selected by the Athletics in the 2018 draft.
For a time it appeared as if he’d choose baseball but his outstanding season for the Sooners seemed to change his mind on the matter. Last month he declared for the NFL draft, with the knowledge that doing so did not yet foreclose him from playing baseball. Meanwhile there were reports that the Athletics were considering giving Murray a major league deal in order to entice him to give up football and make baseball his full time gig.
All that seems to be over now, as Murray himself tweeted this a few moments ago:
An interesting question presents itself here: did the A’s lose Murray because of baseball’s cap on draft pick bonuses? And did baseball’s current state of labor relations play into the decision as well?
There’s a more or less hard cap on draftee bonuses now, prescribed by the league, and it’s painful for any team which seeks to exceed them. Those slots had the A’s giving Murray a $4.66 million signing bonus. There was a time when the A’s could’ve paid Murray any amount they wanted. That is, if they wanted him badly enough. As it was, their very act of trying to negotiate with Murray again in recent weeks required them to get special sign-off from the league and became a news story in and of itself. If the gambit were to be successful, the A’s would’ve had to keep Murray on their 40-man roster for his entire minor league career and potentially lose him to free agency earlier. Which is to say that (a) the A’s were mostly barred from paying Murray enough to lure him away from football; (b) if they wanted to exceed that bar it required a lot of doing; and (c) if they wanted to do that, there were factors pushing back against them doing so.
Meanwhile, the state of labor relations is such that the old calculus that used to apply to a two-sport star may not apply anymore. In the past, a guy like Murray would think “I could get paid more in the short term and have a short, possibly injury-filled football career or I could get paid more in the long run and have a longer, more healthy baseball career.” Well, when even two of the top free agents to ever hit the market are unemployed on February 11, that calculus is not the same as it used to be. Maybe Murray never gets paid to play baseball? His signing bonus was capped, prospects’ service time is routinely manipulated and free agency is far less appealing than it used to be. Maybe that makes the NFL that much more appealing.
At this point I suppose it’s theoretically possible that Murray could attend this month’s NFL combine and go through the draft, only to be disappointed in where he is selected. If that happens, I suppose it’s also possible for the A’s leave the door open for him to come back to baseball. This sort of unequivocal statement from Murray, however, makes that seem like an unlikely scenario. He’s going for an NFL career and, at the very least, is making it publicly clear that baseball is not on his mind. Perhaps that’s partially aimed at allying the fears of NFL teams regarding his commitment, but I’d wager it’s more about his actual desires.
The question for baseball is: did he jump for the NFL, or was he pushed?