Rob Manfred
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2020 MLB Draft will only be five rounds


ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel reported this evening that Major League Baseball will slash its amateur draft to five rounds for 2020. The draft usually consists of 40 rounds.

As JJ Cooper of Baseball America notes, last year the MLB draft had 1,217 players picked. This year 160 players will be selected once supplemental picks are added in. In 1996, the New York Yankees selected 100 players alone. As for talent, players selected in the sixth through tenth round over the past decade include Jacob deGrom, Dallas Keuchel, Paul Goldschmidt, Marcus Semien, Miles Mikolas, Whit Merrifield, Kyle Hendricks, Brian Dozier, Trey Mancini, Kendall Graveman, and Emilio Pagán. 

Earlier reporting about draft negotiations suggested that draftees would be forced to defer 90% of their bonuses. They’d get 10% up front, with 45% paid in July of 2021 and the remaining 45% paid in July 2022. It’s not clear from this evening’s report if that deferral scenario has been agreed to in the new arrangement.

Beyond that, the new draft rules will allow teams to sign an unlimited number of un-drafted players for $20,000. For comparison, last year, sixth-round bonus slots ranged from a high of $301,600 to a low of $237,000. The smallest bonus through the first ten rounds of this year’s draft was slotted at $142,500.

Given the massive falloff in bonus money for comparable talent, scores if not hundreds of players who would otherwise be drafted will flock to junior colleges where they will be eligible to play for one year and re-enter next year’s draft, which will be far more crowded even if they expand it back up to 40 rounds (don’t bet on that happening). Other players will decide to go to four-year colleges and put off a professional career, though obviously not all players who might’ve been drafted this year will be able to find such slots.

Of the players who do not or cannot go to college, many will be forced, due to the low bonuses, to work full-time jobs in the offseason to make ends meet, detracting from their training regimens. That has always been necessary for amateur free agents or late-round draftees, but now it will be the case for frontline talent as well. Other players may leave the U.S. and attempt to catch on in Japan, Korea, or Taiwan. Many players may give up playing baseball entirely. Regardless of where any specific player goes, this will, overall, reduce the amount of talent in American professional baseball.

Why? To save money.

The decision to slash the draft to five rounds comes after weeks of discussion between MLB and the MLBPA. The union had previously agreed to the possibility of a draft as short as five rounds, but was hoping for a 10-round draft during talks. It’s been widely reported in the past several days that baseball operations departments  were hoping for a 10-round draft as well, but that the five-round draft was an “owner-driven decision.”

Practically speaking, however, once the MLBPA gave the owners the green light to cut the draft to as few as five rounds, there was little doubt the owners would do it, as the owners have long sought to cut the amount of money spent on amateur talent acquisition. There’s a reason ownership sought and obtained a cap on draftee bonuses several years ago. There’s also a reason the MLBPA gave it to them willingly: they thought the savings would be passed along to veteran players. That that did not occur and that the MLBPA still gave the green light to owners to cut the draft to five is rather mind-boggling.

Given that the cost savings to owners via this move is, at best, a million or two million per team, it’s hard to see how these measures bear any reasonable connection to the current crisis. It’s not that much money, even with the disruption to the 2020 season. In light of that, it seems to represent nothing more than base opportunism on the part of Major League Baseball and its owners. And stands as yet another example of the MLBPA selling out non-members in a misguided effort to benefit its membership.

It’s bad for baseball to have fewer talented players. But beyond just that, it stinks. It stinks to high heavens.

Covid-19 test delays impacting multiple teams

Covid-19 test delays
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Covid-19 test delays — and at least one incident in which testers simply didn’t show up at all — have delayed workouts for at least two teams so far. And at least one team’s general manager is hopping mad about it.

Alex Coffey of The Athletic reported overnight that the Oakland Athletics have yet to have a full squad workout because of COVID-19 test delays. They were supposed to begin such workouts yesterday, but delayed them until today. They have since been delayed again until tonight, and even those may not happen.

Why? Because the initial team tests that are required before allowing the team’s full complement of players and coaches into the facility had not even arrived at MLB’s testing center in Utah as of last night. Indeed, they sat in the San Francisco airport all weekend because no one with MLB or the league’s testing company bothered to account for the Fourth of July holiday and expedite shipping.

Coffey obtained the text message Athletics’ GM David Forst sent to the entire club about the COVID-19 test delays. And, frankly, it’s gobsmacking.

The upshot, as Forst explains in the text, is that the test samples which were collected on Friday and which were due to be in Salt Lake City on Saturday sat at the San Francisco airport because of the July 4 holiday. Which, OK, fine, in which case someone should have changed the shipping instructions for Sunday delivery rather than have it just wait around until Monday like any other package. But no one bothered to do that. Forst, in the text:

On top of screwing up the logistics of this whole thing, neither MLB nor CDT (the company that collects the samples) communicated any of this to us until we pressed them for information, at which point all they could do was apologize, which frankly doesn’t really do much for us. Our best shot is to schedule a workout for [Monday] night with the hope that the samples arrive at the lab on time tomorrow and they are able to turn around your results in a matter of a few hours.

Forst goes on to say that the blame for the COVID-19 test delays “lies with CDT and MLB and I won’t cover for them like I did earlier today.”

The “covering for them” refers to comments Forst made to the media after the initial delay in testing, which he and manager Bob Melvin blew off as a routine delay, with Forst saying “We all know that being flexible and adjusting to the unknowns is going to be part of everything we do this season.” In the text, however, Forst is clearly pissed off:

Despite having our schedule a week ahead of time, they didn’t alert us to the possibility of any complications around July 4th, and once there were issues, they did nothing to communicate that to us or remedy the situation until Nick (Paparesta, the A’s head athletic trainer) and I forced the issue at various times today. If possible, I’m as frustrated and pissed as you are (well, probably not as pissed as Matt is), and I assure you the rest of the staff is as well.” 

“Matt” refers to A’s third baseman Matt Chapman, who expressed his anger at the COVID-19 test delays to Forst. He’s not the only A’s player to be upset about this:

This anger is not merely about delays to workouts which, given how compacted training camp and the season is, matter a great deal and put the A’s at a competitive disadvantage to teams who are already playing simulated games. It also poses health and safety concerns.

Pitchers and catchers have been allowed to report already and without the test results they have no idea if COVID-19 is spreading in the clubhouse or if any of them need to be isolated. Diekman has specific reason to be concerned as his history of ulcerative colitis, which caused him to have part of his colon removed a few years back, puts him in the “at risk” category. The A’s, now, get to sit around most of today waiting for testing results that, per Coffey’s report, likely, at best, arrived at the Utah testing facility after 1AM this morning.

And the MLB Covid-19 test delays, it seems, are not limited to the Oakland Athletics. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that down in Anaheim, the testers who conduct saliva tests for the Los Angeles Angels simply did not show up as scheduled yesterday. Rosenthal says that it led to Angels players conducting their own tests. He said that it was unclear if the tests were shipped to lab in Utah — the AWOL testers are supposed to do that — but he does note that today’s workouts were pushed back from 9 am to noon, most likely to account for the testing screwup.

Rosenthal says “two other, unidentified teams had same issue on Sunday,” which suggests as many as four teams, including the Athletics and Angels, are experiencing COVID-19 test delays.

This, to say the least, is inexcusable. Major League Baseball has based its entire, radical 2020 season structure on extensive health and safety protocols and an extensive COVID-19 testing regime. There is already concern on the part of some that, even with such protocols and testing, playing the 2020 season is too risky, but it’s undeniable that there is zero way for professional sports to be conducted in a pandemic without such protocols or with material COVID-19 test delays.

Mere days into the endeavor, however, we have all of this.