For the second straight year, the Marlins hauled in an extremely well-regarded MLB Draft class. Their six picks—all of them pitchers—each have intriguing pro potential in the eyes of leading talent evaluators because of how they performed during the abbreviated 2020 amateur baseball season, or the measurable tools they’ve shown earlier in their careers. Addressing the media shortly after the draft, Marlins director of amateur scouting DJ Svihlik said that the signing bonus amounts had already been agreed upon and estimated that contracts would be finalized by the end of June. Perfectly executed...right?
Well, first-rounder Max Meyer is at the club’s alternate training site in Jupiter, keeping his arm ready for a possible late-summer call-up. Kyle Nicolas finally signed this week and received full slot value. But the other four remain in negotiations, and it’s hard to blame them:
The @Marlins have tried to get their draftees to sign 2021 contracts, which has led to a protracted signing process. That's why four of the last six unsigned @MLBDraft picks belong to Miami. Still think they all get done. #WearAMask https://t.co/LO5KqATKcx— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) July 17, 2020
MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis has previously stated that all of the 160 draftees in this class were expected to get their deals done. With two weeks to go until the Aug. 1 deadline, though, left-handers Dax Fulton and Jake Eder and right-handers Zach McCambley and Kyle Hurt have yet to officially become Marlins.
What are the 2021 contract offers that Callis references? Kyle Glaser of Baseball America explains:
It is an unusual practice that is not industry standard and has aroused anger from agents around the game. Teams normally sign draft picks and nondrafted signees to contracts for the current season so they can immediately send them out to their minor league affiliates to play. But with the minor league season postponed indefinitely, some clubs are attempting to sign players to 2021 contracts so they don’t lose a year of team control in a potentially lost development year.
At least three other teams entered their own negotiations with the same tactic, according to Glaser. It’s not clear if any draftees accepted 2021 contracts, but BA’s reporting indicates that several undrafted free agents have, including new Marlins left-hander Antonio Velez. Perhaps that case has emboldened the front office to hold firm on this stance when it comes to Fulton, McCambley, Eder and Hurt.
Three of the four unsigned Marlins were selected as college juniors. Traditional 2020 contracts would put them on track for Rule 5 eligibility in December 2023 and MiLB free agency by the end of the 2026 season. The fourth player is Fulton, who had first-round-caliber stuff before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Coming from the prep ranks, the club has an extra year to create space on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5, anyway. That’s a lot of club control, but apparently the Marlins aren’t satisfied.
While the Marlins wouldn’t be gaining any immediate financial savings ($100,000 is due to each player when they sign), they are trying to exploit the draftees as long-term assets. To maximize efficiency, they want to ensure that prospects who don’t develop as hoped can eventually be exchanged for something else of value. At the same time, those demonstrating major league usefulness can be held down longer so that their age limits the leverage they have to earn fair market value in arbitration and free agency.
Although there is no reason to fear that these sides will eventually compromise, continuing to insist on 2021 contracts comes off as greedy. Amateur draftees are ordinarily a massive bargain, especially so this year with most of the bonus money being deferred and overall bonuses remaining flat from 2019 (instead of increasing proportional to league revenues).
To build a sustainable contender, the Marlins need organizational depth and draft classes like this one to constantly replenish it. But these prolonged negotiations have needlessly delayed these players from getting acclimated to the professional lifestyle and distracted from the fact that the class shows so much promise.