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Is a Five Round Draft Unnecessarily Short?

2019 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images

It is now official that the 2020 MLB Draft will be just five rounds. This is a massive decrease from the typical forty round event. This is due to the financial strain that is being caused by COVID-19, but apparently this is something that very few people in baseball wanted. Unsurprisingly, this is a change that the owners pushed for the hardest. However, interestingly, there was a split among most teams as the owners pushed for a short five round draft, but general managers and other executives actually wanted a longer draft. This makes sense because the owners want to save money during this financially difficult time, but general managers realize that many great players have been selected after the fifth round. With just five rounds in the draft, many amateur players will be hurt financially, but many may also lose their best shot at making it to the professional ranks. To make things even worse on these players, there is a $20,000 cap on signing bonuses for undrafted players. In previous years, this was $125,000.

Clearly, MLB teams will be hit hard financially by the pandemic. However, it is the amateur players who are looking to take the jump to the next level that will be hurt the most. In the later rounds of the draft there are a large number of college seniors who get drafted. It is typically high school players and draft eligible sophomores and juniors that get taken in the early rounds. These players may struggle with these changes a bit, but the effects will not be as disastrous as they can simply choose to go to college or to spend another year in college if they are not among the top prospects in this year’s class. Sure they will miss out on some money, but at least they will still have a solid shot at making it into the professional ranks next year.

The same cannot be said for the mass of college seniors that were hoping to get selected as part of a normal draft. These seniors were already disadvantaged when negotiating with MLB teams after being drafted due to the fact that they have almost no leverage. It is extremely unlikely that they would walk away from a contract because they cannot go back to college and re-enter the draft. However, things have gotten worse for them as they can now make a maximum of just $20,000 if they get signed. If they do not get signed then things are even worse as they have no clear avenue into professional baseball. Players that would have been picked in the 25th or 30th rounds of a normal draft, are now likely to go unsigned. If this happens there is a bleak outlook as teams may not be willing to sign them next year as they will still be dealing with the negative financial effect of COVID-19. Additionally, with at least 40 minor league teams on the chopping block, there will simply be less minor league positions available across the league.

This not only hurts these players, but it will hurt teams as a whole. All it takes is a quick google search to see a list of high profile names that were selected in the later rounds of the draft. For whatever reasons. some players are late bloomers, but such players may not get the chance to enter the professional ranks. This hurts them as well as the teams that would have benefited from their excellence on the field. However, despite all of the drawbacks of the short 2020 draft, there are clear financial reasons for it. However, the divide between the owners and the GMs calls into question the validity of the financial implications. The owners likely could not have afforded a 40 round draft, but did it need to be shortened all the way to five rounds? The GMs obviously do not know the total financial situation of the owners and the teams, but they do have a good idea as to how much money their teams are losing and what they can afford. If the GMs think that the draft could have been longer then maybe it actually could have been. There were discussions about a ten round draft. That would have been short, but it would have been better. However, in the end, it was the shorter draft that won out and the financial reasons for it are clear, but maybe it did not need to be cut so short.