MLB’s Minor League Contracts Move to 2021, Delaying Free Agency for Players

With no plans for minor-league baseball this summer, some major-league teams have asked newly drafted and undrafted players to sign contracts that begin in 2021 instead of this year.

By pushing back the date of when contracts begin, teams would gain an additional year of control before the players could be eligible for minor-league free agency. The 2021 contracts would turn what are customarily seven-year contracts into eight years of team control, according to Garrett Broshuis, a former minor-league pitcher turned attorney who is representing minor-league players in a class-action lawsuit over wages against major-league teams.

The Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants are among the teams that have offered such contracts, according to people familiar with the transactions, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

“All terms of our proposed contracts were discussed and deemed agreeable by the players’ agents prior to their selection,” said Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations, through a team spokesman. The Marlins declined to comment, and Major League Baseball didn’t respond to a request for comment.

To be sure, the decision to offer contracts beginning in a future season is permitted by Major League Baseball, and players have entered into the novel contracts under the guidance of their agents. And while players in both the majors and minors aren’t required to be paid because of the suspension of uniform player contracts due to the virus, both the Giants and Marlins have pledged to pay their farmhands despite no minor-league season being played.

This year’s major-league first-year player draft was truncated to just five rounds from its normal 50, due to the Covid-19 pandemic canceling most high-school and college baseball seasons. A player not selected in those five rounds could sign with any team that offered him a contract, but bonuses for undrafted players were limited to a maximum of $20,000. The last pick in this year’s draft had an assigned slot value — the recommended bonus amount — of $324,100, although many players sign for less as teams are free to allocate their limited bonus-pool money as they see fit.

The restricted bonuses for those who weren’t selected gave teams leverage to negotiate delayed contract starting dates with athletes they drafted, in return for potentially higher cash bonuses than the players could have received if they had gone undrafted.

Broshuis set off speculation last week among fans on sites like Reddit’s baseball forum as to which teams were engaging in the practice. Many see the delayed contracts as more proof of how minor-league players have little control over their careers, in which many players toil away for less than minimum wage.

“It’s par for the course at this point,” said Broshuis. “What we’re seeing is that since minor-league players don’t have a union, they’re subject to the whims of ownership.”

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