Major League Baseball has had its share of drafts over the years. From 1965 until 1986, they held a January draft for winter graduates of amateur programs. For two years in the 1960s, they had an August draft to choose players who had participated in summer leagues. But the stalwart has long been the June draft. This year will be the 51st incarnation of this venerable institution. And it may very well be the last.
NCAA Coaches and MLB officials met Monday, general agreement on a July 1 draft and July 15 signing deadline— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) January 21, 2015
What does this mean for those involved? Let's take a look.
The NCAA's benefit is both immediate and obvious: The MLB draft will no longer interfere with the College World Series. In years past, players were asked to perform "double-duty," playing out their college postseason after already having been drafted by a major league team. The players themselves will also benefit from this, as they no longer have to sell either their school or the team that drafted them short, instead focusing on one at a time. Add to that the fact that teams can use the CWS to evaluate players, and not have to worry about their draftees getting hurt during the college postseason.
Major League Baseball benefits by having a shorter signing window. Before the most recent CBA, amateur players and their agents had an eternity to drag out negotiations. The system implemented in 2012 tightened things up, setting a hard deadline, but this new change would be significant. A two-week window that may effectively make many bonus offers a "take it or leave it" proposition.
It also has the interesting effect of putting the signing period squarely inside the J2 international free agency period. It's been speculated that this may be a step toward implementing an international draft. On the heels of restored diplomacy between Cuba and the United States, this could all be heading somewhere very interesting, very quickly.
Minor League Baseball
This is where things get tricky. Short-season leagues generally start up right around the time of the June draft. Players who sign quickly can dive right into professional ball. The new signing deadline under this new system would actually be earlier than the current signing deadline (July 17 in 2015). So although players who signed quickly could be available for the beginning of the short-season schedule, the window actually closes earlier now.
It's been suggested that pushing the draft back to July 1 could eliminate two weeks' worth of revenue right up front for these franchises. Those teams don't really have the option of recouping that money by extending the season, because minor league attendance historically dries up after Labor Day:
The figures above are per-game attendance rates, leaguewide, for 2012-2014 in the New York-Penn League. Using the three-year sample corrects for some things that could affect performance like weather, or whether or not Jamestown was playing at home that day. That steep decline at the end? Bear in mind that that usually coincides with the playoffs. It's like an entire league of 1990's Atlanta Braves postseasons.
The traditional reason given for the decline in attendance is that kids go back to school, and families no longer look for their summer entertainment outdoors under the lights. There is, of course, another reason. Again looking at the NYPL:
Others have mentioned some additional logistical hurdles, like player housing, but the real kicker may be that MLB would be costing its affilates money. One alternative to that might be to treat these leagues like mini-camps for the opening weeks - giving players on the bubble a few weeks outside of Extended Spring Training to play in live games before deciding whether or not to cut them loose. That would bring about its own issues - shuttling players back and forth, roster turnaround, etc. - but might be a reasonable compromise.
At this time, it just looks like MLB and the NCAA have agreed that the draft should be moved. There are no formal plans currently in place to do it. But it's a bold idea, and it looks like a clear move toward an international draft, which at this point looks like a virtual inevitability.