MLB Will Continue To Lose Athletes Like Kyler Murray Unless Financial Changes Are Made
At this point in the Kyler Murray saga, there’s a strong chance we as fans will never see him play in a professional baseball game. While it’s obviously not the first time professional baseball has been spurned for football (shoutout to the former Expos draft pick starting at QB in the Super Bowl), Murray’s situation is as high profile a baseball-football dilemma since at least Jeff Samardzija and likely since Bo Jackson.
Baseball seems to consistently get the short end of the stick when it comes to athletes like Murray, which is why Oakland took the massive risk of selecting him 9th overall in the 2018 draft. His athleticism, which made him a Heisman trophy winner & potential NFL first round pick, is potentially in even greater demand in pro baseball than in the NFL. Which is why the prospect of him never stepping in-between the lines for even the Beloit Snappers or Stockton Ports is such a depressing thought for any MLB fan.
MLB doesn’t strike out completely in wooing dual sport stars to the baseball field. The safety aspect and up-front bonus structure has managed to ensnare the kind of athletes that can excel at both sports. Especially out of high school, where high six-to-seven-figure bonuses can be the deciding factor in an athlete choosing to ride busses in the minors vs stroll onto campus in September.
However, for every Joe Mauer or Bubba Starling taking the money & bus rides, there are elite athletes like Jameis Winston & Murray who turn down potentially seven-figures coming out of high school to play on Saturdays. Even more common is fringier high school baseball prospects, such as Golden Tate or Colin Kaepernick, choosing to take their athletic gifts to college instead of letting them grow in Minor League Baseball (MiLB).
When it comes to dual college stars (especially high-profile QBs like Murray), professional baseball seems to get left on the back-burner in favor of the NFL more often than not. The aforementioned Winston, Russell Wilson, & former NFL WR Eric Decker, just to name a few, have chosen to give the NFL a shot over journeying through the minor leagues.
After declaring for the NFL draft Kyler Murray seems likely to follow in their footsteps. It’s a major loss on a gamble for the A’s, who now get zero value out of the 9th overall pick. One could say that the A’s treated their newest draftee more like a son than an employee; agreeing to his demand to play out his junior football season & remaining extremely patient while he tests the NFL waters. It was an incredible gamble that could’ve been lessened by popping someone else at 9th overall (top ranked prep lefty Matthew Liberatore signed for over $1M less than Murray as the 16th pick) and hoped Murray fell to another pick in which they could’ve worked out a deal, but regardless not have had the chance to lose the 9th pick.
Maybe, maybe not. Murray has been clear since high school that his passion lies more with football, and running for your life behind the Dolphins’ offensive line in front of 85,000 people can still seem more appealing than a 1-for-3, cold, 11AM game against Cedar Rapids in front of 85 people. When presented with both opportunities, at the end of the day there may be no way to talk a guy into choosing MiLB life over NFL lifestyle if his heart just isn’t there. Financially however, that isn’t the case.
Baseball usually gets the nod as the more financially lucrative opportunity, but even with Murray’s $4.7M signing bonus, Baseball America’s JJ Cooper wrote that financially Murray would likely fare much better as an NFL QB</a>. $4.7M would likely be enough to turn a fringe 53-man roster player from the NFL, but not a guy with an elite draft grade.
Reports were that Murray’s camp was asking for an additional $15M to fully commit to baseball, which would’ve set up a hell of a fight with MLB based on the current collective bargaining agreement. Baseball as a whole needs to give itself the best chance to have top level athletes choose the sport and become potential major leaguers. The next labor fight in baseball might focus more on free agent spending stagnation, but for the future of the sport (from a fan’s enjoyment perspective at the very least), there should be serious focus on draft & MiLB salary spending.
The draft is notoriously the only time where professional baseball players earn serious money until they reach 3+ years in the show, which for some comes 7+ years after being drafted and for others doesn’t come at all. Many minor leaguers sign for a pittance and never make real money from baseball at all. Even “bonus babies” like Murray earn one big payday, to be followed by years of making what equates to below the minimum wage.
It’s not just guys like Murray- high profile football stars with chances at making elite money in either sport- which MLB whiffs on. There’s intriguing dual sport athletes each year who pass up life in the minor leagues in favor of college athletics in other sports. Reds LHP Amir Garrett & Blue Jays OF Anthony Alford signed deals out of HS, but only committed to baseball after their college basketball & football careers, respectively, seemingly fizzled out. Many other talents pass up a chance at baseball, with a fairly respectable but not life-changing signing bonus, completely in favor of college sports that might pay them less (insert booster with a suitcase full of cash joke) but can make lifestyle offerings that MiLB life can’t.
For any top athlete, there is likely very little appeal to looking at a couple hundred dollar paycheck in a cramped clubhouse with the knowledge in the back of your mind that you could be sitting in a ritzy SEC or NFL locker room, instead of having your six-figure bonus eaten up by taxes and a two bedroom apartment in Chatanooga.
It’s not just the paycheck, either. Long bus rides, bad hotels, cold postgame hot dogs; go watch a video on YouTube of a walkthrough of any big time football powerhouse’s facilities and you’ll see what the lower levels of the minor leagues are competing against when it comes to player allegiance. MiLB lifestyle will never be on par with big time college athletics in any sport. That’s just stating facts. But, for the good of the game, MLB needs to invest more efforts into leveling the playing field (no pun intended) to have the chance to incorporate more high-level talent into its pool of players.
Baseball is a $10 billion dollar industry, and the game is in a great place. It’s filled with as much young, exciting talent as there’s ever been. That’s no reason to be complacent. This year in the June MLB draft there will be multiple athletes who choose to pass over decent bonuses in favor of football or other sports in college, and potentially will serve as the one year anniversary of NFL QB Kyler Murray being drafted in a sport he’d never end up playing. For baseball to be at its best, the sport needs to make a concerted focus on opening the pocket book. Fewer restrictions on draft bonus spending and more pay & lifestyle for Minor Leaguers. This sport can afford to spend more money. It can’t afford to miss out on premium talent.
By Kyle Bandujo