With the Mariners having taken six players in this week’s truncated Major League Baseball draft, about 15 fewer than they had hoped to select, what is next for a team that is trying to accumulate talent for a farm system that needs more depth?
The Mariners will try to take advantage of new rules intended to offset teams’ financial losses caused by the coronavirus shutdown of baseball — which resulted in a five-round draft this week instead of the typical 40 rounds — by getting aggressive with non-drafted free agents.
In most years with 40 rounds, the post-draft market is limited in terms of available talent. But this year there are plenty of quality undrafted college and high-school players.
The bigger issue is the signing bonus available to players. In previous years teams could offer players a maximum of $125,000. But under a spring agreement between the owners and the MLB Players Association, all undrafted free agents can sign for a maximum of only $20,000.
The Mariners had a meeting Friday to go over their non-drafted targets.
“We’ve had some agents that have told us that none of their players they represent would sign,” said Scott Hunter, the Mariners’ director of amateur scouting. “But we will be aggressive.”
Teams can start signing players Monday.
“There are some really good players who are still left out there on the market and want to continue their careers,” Hunter said. “Some that are seniors in college, and then there’s some college juniors that have told their agents and advisers that they are interested in doing it, so we’re going to have a meeting (Friday) to really fine tune our list of targets.”
There is some concern that the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Astros and Cubs will corner the market and sign all the top players. The Mariners hope to sign at least 10 players.
“It could be a total free for all,” one National League scout said. “And you don’t know what they might promise for the future.”
Hunter hopes players will be realistic about their situation and the best opportunity.
“I’d love to sign as many as we can, but realistically with minor leagues possibly shrinking and no season to be played this year, I’d say five to 10 players would be our range that we’re looking at,” Hunter said.
Hunter wasn’t certain how teams would approach the situation. But he trusts the relationships his area scouts have developed with players to convince them to sign with the Mariners.
“It is a huge thing,” he said. “That’s something that we’ve always preached, is just continue to build relationships and be more human than businessman sometimes, because kids are going to be upset that they didn’t get drafted. But just let them process it now and continue to be there if they have questions.
“It really does come down to that relationship, because now it’s everybody’s playing basically free agency. It’s a cap system right now, and $20,000 is the max you can give a player, so the relationships what you can offer a player and some of the things we’ve done with our lower-end players matters.”
Hunter pointed to the relationships his scouts have built with lower-round draft picks such as Art Warren and Sam Delaplane — both 23rd-round selections — as key to sign non-drafted free agents.
“That’s something that we are very proud of as an organization,” Hunter said. “We build relationships with these players. We try to find something more than just on the field. It’s important to us.”