Remember when almost all White Sox fans were extremely frustrated with how the White Sox organization opted to keep Eloy Jimenez in AAA for an extra year of arbitration control? Well, Carter Stewart (Atlanta Braves’ 2018 first round pick) may have changed baseball as we know it. This story isn’t gaining enough prowess as it should, given how the current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLB Player’s Union expires in 2021. The issue of service time manipulation, minor league salaries, and the MLB Draft could be driving issues of a strike if the union and the MLB cannot settle on a new CBA.
What exactly happened here? The Atlanta Braves drafted Carter Stewart with the 8th overall pick in 2018. Instead of offering closer to the $4.98 million of slot money they had, as a bonus for that pick, the Braves elected to lowball Stewart and give him $2 million. Having the league’s most well-known agent in his corner (Scott Boras), Stewart did not sign with the Braves. Everyone assumed he would just get selected in this year’s draft out of junior college. Instead, this week he signed a deal with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League for six years and over $7 million. Why is this a big issue? Stewart will be an international free agent at the age of 25, instead of having to be under a team’s control with the league minimum salary. He found a loophole that could force the end of a draft, and if not that, added slot money for draft picks. I can understand this, as the MLB has lobbyists in Washington D.C., specifically to ensure that minor league ballplayers do not qualify for minimum wage. If anything, Stewart’s move to the Japan League will cause a domino effect in other highly-touted draft picks. If they can make more money elsewhere, instead of $15K per year in the minors, why wouldn’t they?
This will be interesting moving forward, especially with the MLB’s recent free agent freeze and how minor league salaries are gaining more and more press each season. If anything, this gives the Player’s Union more leverage in the CBA negotiations, which could honestly make the MLB settle on a more lenient CBA in 2021. Regardless, I think Stewart’s move will change the current format of the MLB draft, CBA, minor league system, and player control rules in general.
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