Last June, the Braves made right-hander Carter Stewart the No. 8 overall pick of the MLB Draft. Stewart did not sign and instead pitched a season at a Florida junior college this spring. Since Stewart didn't figure to improve his position in the upcoming draft, he made the stunning decision to.
Doing so will allow Stewart to make more money than he would've made with his draft bonus and likely salary path upon reaching the majors (assuming he ever reached MLB). It will also allow him to become an international free agent after his six years in Japan are up, which of course could net him an even bigger payday should his performance merit it and should the current system remain unchanged.
Obviously, Stewart's groundbreaking decision is big news in MLB, and that's especially the case with the 2019 draft scheduled for June 3. Now Stewart's agent, Scott Boras, has spoken publicly about Stewart's choice. Boras' conversation with Bob Nightengale of USA Today is definitely worth a full read, and let's highlight a couple of notable quotes:
"He had no opportunity to get true value in the American system.''
"This will have a great impact on baseball. Players now know they have an alternative that is much more economically beneficial. These talents have a value, and we have a system that has depressed the value of these player."
The MLB Draft these days has a hard slotting system. Teams operate with strict draft budgets, and they face steep penalties if they exceed those limits. While they have some flexibility when it comes to the recommended bonus for each draft slot, the overall budget limit for each team lords over every decision. These changes were of course justified under the guise of competitive balance, but the the true objective is to limit labor costs. The Players' Association agreed to these changes despite the fact that draftees are of course not union members.
If nothing else, this is a creative workaround that can shift some leverage toward the draftee. To be sure, not every 18- to-21-year-old is willing and able to play baseball on the other side of the world, but for the most coveted of draft prospects this provides a path toward more money and, ultimately, earlier free agency.
No doubt, MLB amateur scouting departments and even owners will grouse about the tactic, but they have only their own overreach to blame. Whether MLB will be forced to respond with structural changes to the draft -- i.e., lifting those cost controls -- will be determined by to what extent this becomes a trend. Will Stewart be a one-off novelty or will other draftees be drawn to such an unexpected exercise of power? Boras notes the incentives that MLB has put in place, and by the sounds of it he expects more in Stewart's position to respond to them accordingly.