Kyler Murray Decision Takes Another Turn
For this decade, one of Major League Baseball's biggest initiatives has been to limit teams' spending on amateur players.
When Major League Baseball and the MLBPA agreed to the collective bargaining agreement in 2012, the new CBA put hard caps on draft spending (as opposed to the guidelines of the previous draft system). Technically teams could spend as much as they wanted, but by tying significant draft pick penalties to exceeding spending limits, the new rules ensured that no team will exceed its spending caps. And under the new rules, no one has come close to the $15 million major league contract Stephen Strasburg landed as the first pick in the 2009 draft.
Draft spending was capped, but internationally teams could still spend big. And so the money quickly flowed from the draft to the international market. Some international amateurs landed deals that cost teams $50 million or more. At its peak, the Padres spent more than $75 million on bonuses and penalties during the 2016-17 signing period.
And so in the most recent CBA, signed before the 2017 season, MLB put strict restrictions on international spending as well. Whenever they have had the opportunity, MLB has done everything it can to limit spending on amateur players.
On Sunday, MLB budged in an unexpected way. Jeff Passan and multiple other national reporters reported that MLB would allow the Oakland A's to sign Kyler Murray to a new major league contract, if the A's want to do so to prevent the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner from choosing football over baseball.
Murray's deadline to declare for the NFL draft is Monday, Jan. 14.
According to WFAA's Mike Leslie, Murray is looking for around $15 million to choose baseball over football.
MLB's decision is based on the idea that since the A's and Murray did not discuss such a contract before they signed him to a $4.66 million as their 2018 first-round pick, it is not a circumvention of draft bonus rules. The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reports that $15 million is not an accurate number but that the A's are "working on something creative."
Multiple agents say that they believe such a decision will open the doors for other players in the future to land significantly larger deals than are currently possible under draft bonus rules.
Looked at with some historical perspective, even $15 million for Murray is very modest money in the realm of what teams would spend if draft/amateur spending was not artificially limited by CBA rules.
If draftees were free agents, top amateur prospects would earn significantly more. We know this because in 1996, four of the top 12 picks in the draft became free agents when teams failed to offer them official contracts within the specified timeframe. Travis Lee and Matt White each signed for $10 million or more at a time when the top pick in the draft received only $2 million and the highest-paid player in baseball, Ken Griffey Jr., was making only $8.5 million a year. More than 20 years later, no draftee has come close to receiving $10 million under the current draft system that began in 2012.
With an uncapped draft, Stanford outfielder/quarterback Joe Borchard set a draft record with a $5.3 million bonus in 2000 at a time when the No. 1 pick received just $3 million. The Yankees spent $17 million on a major league deal to convince third baseman/quarterback Drew Henson to give up football in 2001. Those numbers are from a time when MLB revenues were roughly a third of what they are now.
Before MLB put in rules restricting spending on international amateurs, many players landed contracts that cost MLB teams much far more than $15 million. Yoan Moncada cost the Red Sox $63 million in 2015. The White Sox spent $52 million to sign outfielder Luis Robert (a player with similar skills to Murray) in 2017.
So from that standpoint, a $15 million deal to keep Murray in MLB seems somewhat modest, even if it also means he would be guaranteed double the money that No. 1 pick Casey Mize received when he set a bonus record for current draft rules last summer.
The list of busts among two-sport, football/baseball stars who receive massive baseball contract is quite lengthy—Henson, Borchard, Chad Hutchinson, Bubba Starling and Zach Lee are just a few of the names to remember. But every now and then, a team spends big to land a Joe Mauer (who spurned a football scholarship at Florida State to sign with the Twins) or a Matt Holliday.
MLB's willingness to allow Murray to renegotiate his deal before he plays one minor league game will likely also change the incentives for future two-sport stars who are viable baseball prospects.
What this means for two-sport stars is that there are now significant incentives to keep playing both sports. This decision creates an incentive to sign a pro baseball contract that allows the player to also play their other sport in college. Such a move is detrimental to the player's development in either sport, but by doing so, the player keeps open the possibility of a contract renegotiation that would pay off with far more money than is normally possible under MLB draft rules.
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For a player without the leverage of a second sport, the draft bonus is likely to be the only large payday for six or more years. Even for a very fast-moving draftee like Kris Bryant, his first multi-million dollar MLB payday did not come until the sixth season after he was drafted.
But a player who shows both MLB promise and a viable second sport could land a renegotiation to buy them out of their second sport a year or two into their pro baseball career. This isn't a realistic option for most baseball players, but for those who do qualify, it's a potential way around MLB's very strict draft bonus rules and into a significant payday.
Logically, a two-sport player wouldn't need to win a Heisman Trophy. All he needs to do is demonstrate that he has a realistic option of giving up baseball for his other sport. If so, his MLB team should be able to make the argument that they need to renegotiate the deal to keep the player playing baseball.
MLB strictly prohibits teams from discussing a future larger deal as an inducement to sign an initial contract. But by continuing to play another sport, players could get around such restrictions by pushing such discussions into the future after they have already signed their initial deal.
So a player could tell teams coming out of high school that he is willing to sign a pro contract in baseball if drafted, but only one that allows him to also play college football (or basketball). No discussion of a future renegotiated contract would be needed. But both the team drafting the player and the player would know that such a possibility could exist in the future.