As the Athletics attempt to convince two-sport star Kyler Murray — who they drafted with the ninth pick in last summer’s draft — to choose baseball rather than entering the NFL Draft, they’ll reportedly have some extra leverage on their side. Major League Baseball will allow the A’s to place Murray on their 40-man roster, thus guaranteeing him a minimum salary of $89,500 in addition to the $4.66 million signing bonus they gave him last summer, according to reports Sunday evening from ESPN’s Jeff Passan and the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin:
The Oakland A’s have a group of top executives en route to meet with Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, sources tell ESPN. The goal: Convince him to stick with baseball as his football prospects seemingly grow stronger. His deadline to declare for the NFL Draft is Monday.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2019
During a meeting in Dallas today, the possibility of Oakland guaranteeing money in addition to Murray's $4.66 million signing bonus was raised, sources tell ESPN. To do so, Oakland would need to add Murray to its 40-man roster. He still could develop in the minor leagues.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2019
Clarifying the Murray news: MLB technically would not be waiving a rule for Kyler Murray. The rule prevents major league contracts for drafted players. Murray signed a minor league contract. A major league deal would be like him being selected onto the big league roster.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2019
I'm told the A's could pay more to Kyler Murray by adding him to the 40-man roster (and thus giving him a major league contract). So long as MLB believes the A's didn't promise that before they signed him, MLB would not consider that a circumvention of the draft pool system.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) January 13, 2019
Murray, 21, is viewed by many within NFL scouting circles as a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft after leading Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff and winning the Heisman Trophy during his lone season as the Sooners’ starting quarterback. Reports came out earlier this week that he would enter the NFL Draft, but since then the Athletics have reportedly been putting on the full-court press in an attempt to get him to stick with baseball.
Baker Mayfield, Murray’s predecessor at Oklahoma and the first overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft, received a $21.85 million signing bonus, while the lowest bonus for a first-rounder was $4.96 million — more than Murray received from the A’s. Considering that there’s no guarantee of Murray ever reaching the major leagues and that minor-leaguers receive salaries that are often below minimum wage, don’t get paid to attend minor-league spring training, extended spring training, or instructional league, and endure grueling travel and lodging arrangements — particularly at the lower levels of the minors — it’s easy to see why Murray would be inclined to choose football. It also doesn’t help the Athletics’ case that today’s offense-friendly NFL rules significantly reduce the odds of quarterback injuries, virtually negating the common argument that he’d be risking CTE or a long-term injury by choosing football.
Being eligible to be added to the 40-man roster right now would certainly sweeten the pot for Murray if he’s still considering baseball, though. He would immediately begin to burn option years, and though he would qualify for MLB’s rare fourth option year due to the fact that he’d burn his third option year before he had completed his fifth professional season, he’d still be in position to start accumulating service time towards arbitration no later than 2023.
Since the CBA that MLB and the MLBPA agreed on in November 2011, teams have been unable to sign draft picks (or international free agents defined as “foreign professionals” under the age of 25, i.e. Shohei Ohtani) to major-league contracts, and thus young players have been left off the 40-man roster until they’re either due to become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft or ready to play in the big leagues. At the time that MLB made the rule change, there were worries that this type of situation might unfold, with a player choosing a different professional sport because of the superior salary structure. Then-commissioner Bud Selig was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “I have no concerns about that. I don’t believe that that’s a possibility. I believe the sport is on an upgrade at every level.” Obviously baseball’s current leadership is thinking differently on this issue.
Clearly, MLB’s ruling on this situation could set a precedent for future negotiations across the league. As Shaikin tweeted Sunday night, a league source believes that the Angels’ (or any other team’s, for that matter) negotations with Ohtani would have played out differently last winter if this decision had already been made:
Murray situation recalls Ohtani talks. MLB told teams there could be no promise of future long-term deal, not even discussion of one. Ohtani, like Murray, signed minor league contract.— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) January 14, 2019
Could #Angels sign Ohtani to long-term deal today?
"Yes. Absolutely," source tells Times.