This summer, even the most seasoned baseball scouts will experience something they’ve never seen before: a potentially strong free agent market for amateur players in which money won’t be a factor.

One of the side effects of last month’s labor agreement caused by coronavirus between Major League Baseball and its players was the shortening of the annual MLB project, which will now be between 5 and 10 laps instead of its usual 40. The agreement also stipulated that the maximum bonus for undrafted amateurs would be $ 20,000, drastically reducing profits for players who could otherwise earn draft bonuses in excess of $ 100,000.

The unprecedented nature of the situation has created a heated debate within baseball circles over the number of valuable players who will enter the amateur free agent market this summer. With the draft significantly shortened, high school players might be more likely to go to college for a year or go to college and try the draft process again in three years. College players whose seasons have been canceled will receive an additional year of eligibility and many could decide to stay in school in the hopes that the draft normalizes in the years to come.

“I’m sure I’m not telling any of my guys to sign for $ 20,000,” one agent said. “It’s a (expletive) joke.”

Despite the uncertainty, the teams operate with the belief that there will be value in the undrafted market, especially if the draft only lasts five rounds. The belief is that players will want to go pro as soon as possible, and there is no guarantee that the 2021 draft (which can also be shortened) would present a more attractive opportunity. The more children who stay in school, the more the backlog for future draft increases, thus increasing the competition that amateurs will face in the years to come.

Under normal draft rules, undrafted players can sign for $ 125,000 before counting into their team’s draft pool, and most sign for the highest bid. But with a hard cap at $ 20,000, players will have to make decisions based on a series of other factors that teams are struggling to understand ahead of the draft.

With that in mind, we posed the following question to over a dozen major league officers, agents and players on condition of anonymity: “If the money is equal, what factors will the undrafted free agents give the priority ? If 10 teams offer $ 20,000, what will matter most? “

Answers have varied, as the unprecedented nature of the new system leaves everyone guessing. Interviewees agreed that each player will think differently, but there were commonalities in the responses that paint a picture of what fans might find most appealing. They are:

THE RELATIONSHIP

Among respondents, the consensus was that the most important factor will be the relationship between teams and players. In normal years, amateur scouts work hard to build relationships with amateur players and their families in the hope that the teams can come to a financial settlement during the draft. Now, with the money no longer at stake, the idea is that these relationships will mean even more.

Zonal recruiters will effectively become college recruiters and “line up on the doorstep” to introduce players to their organizations, a recruiting manager said. A senior recruiter for a National League team agreed: “A comfort zone. That’s all. Relationships.

While Zone Scouts do not play a direct role in players’ career trajectories after signing, they are responsible for introducing Fans to other people in the organization and creating a network for that player to feel comfortable. The special relationships between teams (and their recruiters, managers and coaches) and players (and their agents, relatives and amateur coaches) are likely to be decisive factors for a number of prospects.

Several agents said they expect their clients to appreciate the level of interest shown in them by specific teams. A pitcher who signed with a club as an undrafted free agent said he picked the team that offered the most money, but if all offers were equal he would have picked the team that offered the most money. , according to him, showed the most interest in him.

Officers said communication and transparency will be key parts of the process, especially before and during the project. Players will likely be more inclined to sign with clubs that show constant interest instead of making the first contact once the undrafted pool opens.

“The most important factor should be the relationships the players and advisers have with the scouts and the teams,” said an agent, “and the information they get to decide on the best solution for the player.”

THE OPPORTUNITY

Respondents largely agreed that another important factor will be the amount of opportunities that teams can present to players. But there was some disagreement on what exactly players would prefer.

Would a player prefer a club with a solid farm system filled with prospects, a recent record of developing fans, and a championship window in the not too distant future? Or would he rather join an organization with a weak farming system and a better opportunity to grow prospect lists and reach the majors sooner?

Responses were mixed. Agents, obviously keen to see their players reach the majors as quickly as possible, looked into picking the squad with a more immediate opportunity. A scouting manager thought players would likely lean that way, but said the attitude could put some teams off.

“There will always be someone in front of you,” he said. “I want the guy who says, ‘I don’t care who’s in my way. I want to beat him. ‘”

Several agents said they would help their clients assess the track record of how organizations have developed similar players in the past. For example, a varsity reliever might be inclined to pick a team that recently moved a varsity reliever quickly among the minors and into the big league enclosure.

BELLS AND WHISTLES

College recruits visit campuses and hear all about the unique things that potential schools have to offer, so it stands to reason that amateur free agents would do the same. Three different agents mentioned spring training facilities as a major factor, noting that players would likely be more inclined to spend two months of the year on the coast closest to home.

Other potential factors include the cities in which teams have affiliates, the state of their minor league stadiums, and the opportunities available on low-level affiliate rosters. One agent mentioned that club-specific pitching philosophies would be important to pitchers, who might be inclined to choose a team that thinks the same as he does on pitch.

THE CITY / PACKAGE ADVANTAGE

The Boy Scouts and Agents recognized that players might be inclined to sign with their hometown teams or the teams they rooted to grow up. The logic is foolproof: Fans could fulfill their dream of playing for a specific organization, and in some cases, stay close to their families as well.

This could benefit clubs in geographies that traditionally have a lot of amateur outlook like Southern California (Dodgers, Angels and Padres), Texas (Rangers and Astros), Florida (Rays and Marlins) and the Southeast. (Braves). It could also benefit some flagship organizations (like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Cubs) that don’t have geography on their side but have a national brand and fans across the country.

Showcase events and the advent of social networks have tightened the circle of top amateur players more than ever. College programs often present multiple professional perspectives within a single team. Executives have acknowledged that there is a possibility that friends may seek to sign an unwritten global deal, or teams that draft a certain player may gain an advantage with a player that has not been drafted.

“If we draft a kid in the fourth round, do we have a better chance of signing his buddy?” Asked a scout director.

Still, the teams are hoping other factors will replace the hometown advantage.

“Yeah, they (will consider their hometown teams) for sure,” said one crosschecker. “Unless a (scout) has a good relationship with him.”

SWEETENERS

With multiple teams potentially offering similar benefits, agents are likely to see how much they can get out of each interested club. An agent said he would look at the amount of college scholarships each club could offer their client.

Another agent said that because agents won’t earn much commission on a $ 20,000 bonus, they will likely ask clubs how they can help cut operating expenses early in players’ careers. To accomplish this, players can ask teams to include sweeteners like a housing allowance, free equipment, or a free training program during the offseason, as long as those items follow the rules governed by the new. employment contract.

There is also a fear that tabletop sweeteners might play a role in the process, but no one seemed to want to talk much about it.

***

10 observations from last week in baseball

1. Each plan proposed for the resumption of the baseball season is crazier than the last. And each comes with at least five stipulations that make me think they have no chance of success.

2. The Arizona diet has some merit and the support of some public health officials, which is crucial. But the players will not agree to be separated from their families for months. There may be a happy medium here.

3. The Florida / Arizona Realignment Plan is also flawed and brutal for teams training in Florida. Not only is the league absolutely stacked, but traveling by bus within the state would be a significant barrier. There’s a reason veterans don’t have to attend Grapefruit League road games during spring training.

4. This Illustrated sports article about the pitfalls of restarting the sport was revealing and, frankly, depressing.

5. At MLB.com, Anthony Castrovince had a very well done oral history of a business scuttled in 2015 who changed baseball history forever. I had never connected the dots quite like him.

6. NESN will present a series of classic games from David Ortiz this week.

7. It was nice to hear Chris Sale looked so relaxed and relieved on his conference call with the media this week. Far from what it was the last time he spoke to the media in Fort Myers.

8. Very cool Portland Sea Dogs move to continue paying employees, and that couldn’t have been easy given the current state of minor league baseball.

9. had the pleasure of meeting Al Kaline a few years ago in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was extremely pleasant. Rest in peace.

ten. Stay positive and hopeful. We will get out of this.

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