Kumar Rocker Didn't Sign With The Mets. So What Are His Options?
With Kumar Rocker failing to sign with the New York Mets, he has multiple options. He could return to Vanderbilt to pitch another college season. Thanks to the lost 2020 season because of coronavirus he actually has two years of college eligibility remaining.
First things first. No, Rocker does not simply become a free agent because he failed to come to an agreement with the Mets.
Why not? Well, that’s the system MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to. MLB has worked over multiple collective bargaining agreements to stamp out any paths for players to receive uncapped bonuses when coming into MLB’s minor league system. The MLBPA has agreed to such restrictions as part of the 2012 (which capped how much of a bonus MLB draftees can receive) and 2017 CBA (which capped how much of a bonus international signees can receive).
If players could become free agents (which would receive massively larger bonuses than the capped amount they can receive in the draft), then players would logically refuse to sign with the team that drafted them. By not coming to agreement, they would be offered a much more appealing option--total free agency.
So free agency is not an option.
Rocker’s agent Scott Boras has indicated that Rocker will not be returning to school. He could work out on his own in preparation for the 2022 draft. He could sign with a partner league (what was previously known as independent baseball). Or he could head to Japan to play in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, something Carter Stewart did when he failed to sign with the Braves as a 2018 first round pick.
While Japan is a theoretical option, several provisions in the international free agent rules established in the most recent collective bargaining agreement make that a less-than-appealing option.
If Rocker opted to head to Japan, he would do so knowing that he would be at least six seasons away from being able to return to the U.S. if he wanted to come to the U.S. as a free agent.
Under the current CBA, players coming to the U.S. from foreign professional leagues are subject to the international bonus limits unless they come over to the States at age 25 or older and having played six seasons in a top-level foreign professional league.
If a player does not meet those two requirements, they can be posted, but they can only sign a minor league contract and receive a signing bonus (capped at the maximum a team can spend on the international amateur market).
The cut-off age had been 23-years-old and five years of foreign professional experience, but it was adjusted in the MLB-MLBPA collective bargaining agreement the year before Shohei Ohtani came to the U.S. That adjustment likely cost Ohtani more than $100 million on his initial contract. Ohtani ended up signing with the Angels for $2.315 million. His initial contract was a minor league deal.
Signing bonuses for the international amateur market are capped under the current CBA at an amount less than what first round picks often receive in the draft.
Since Rocker could make more in the 2022 MLB Draft as he can on the international amateur market, going to Japan for a year or two provides no clear financial benefit. He could head to Japan with the intent of meeting all the requirements to return as an international free agent, but that would mean that he would need to play in Japan through at least 2027 (to meet the six years of foreign professional experience requirement).
He would then be 28 as he returned to the States as a free agent. While that could potentially lead to a lucrative payday for him at that point, it would not get him to free agency much earlier than he could do so by staying in the U.S.
If Rocker reached the majors in 2023 (after signing out of the draft), he would be on pace to reach free agency in 2029 or 2030. And the maximum salary received by any NPB player (Tomoyuki Sugano’s $8 million) is significantly less than what top MLB players receive in arbitration, so in the meantime, Rocker would likely receive less money than he could potentially earn in the U.S.