Rafael Devers

USA Today Sports

MLB free agency: This isn't about your dad's favorite team

Rob Bradford
June 14, 2020 - 7:14 am
Categories: 

A year before college players picking teams became a thing, Chris Murphy offered a hint as to how the process would unfold.

The Red Sox' sixth-round pick from the 2019 Draft grew up a Yankees fan, with his dad steering the ship when it came to the family's fandom. But when Murphy started making list of teams he wanted to prioritize, New York was nowhere to be found.

"There were teams that were more progressive in terms of pitching, teams that I would have liked to go to in terms of opportunity," Murphy explained to WEEI.com. "The Yankees weren't really at the top of the list. I want to have a good, long career where I have a chance to make it to the major leagues."

Welcome to the awakening.

At 9 a.m. Sunday MLB teams could start contacting draft-eligible players who weren't selected in the recent five-round MLB Draft. This wave of free agency, however, had nothing to do with money. The most any player can make is $20,000, eliminating the usual difference-maker when it comes to any sort of free agency.

The initial thoughts would be that this set of rules would lead players to choose their childhood favorites. Kids from New England would play for the Red Sox, and so on. Don't count on it.

"I think players have gotten smarter these days," said Spencer Medick, a lead throwing trainer at Driveline Baseball. "There is more information out there for them. And they are doing their due diligence to take ownership and treat this like a business and put themselves in a position to succeed rather than going for the traditional emotional decision of playing for the hometown crowd. Obviously that will carry some weight for a lot of guys but I think the tide has shifted a little bit. More information is at their fingertips and more guys are doing their research to find the right fit for them.

"It’s almost like college recruiting where guys want to find the school that is right for them. They want to find the team that is right for them rather than, ‘It’s my dad’s alma mater so I want to go there.’ They are forging their own path."

Medick's place of employment, Driveline, is a representation of how players are looking for the keys to not only entrance into professional baseball but long-term success at the highest level. Through data-driven technology, the training service has become a destination for players seeking answers that weren't previously available.

It has become an increasingly important kind of place considering how many questions are being asked.

While a place like Driveline might not hand out spreadsheets to players regarding which organizations should be prioritized, it does represent the kind of resource this wave of potential free agents can lean on.

"Honestly, it’s players’ experiences," said Medick regarding what has been the most impactful piece for players trying to make their life-altering decisions. "We have a lot of pro players through our doors in every offseason from different organizations and backgrounds and it’s those guys talking to us and each other. Whether it’s the use of data and access to it or kind of restrictions on that, same thing with throwing programs. Really more than anything it goes back to that family environment, word of mouth. They talk with each other and talk with us about their experiences. And when players reach out we tell them our two cents, things that we heard through the grapevine from players within those organizations."

Which organizations will ultimately get the upper-hand when it comes to reeling in the best players who weren't selected in those five rounds last week is still a bit of a mystery. We have never gone through this process before.

Then there are the decisions that need to be made regarding whether or not to bet on staying in school for another year, hoping the bigger payday will emerge next June.

"There is still that wide range of guys. Guys who are a little more selective and guys who will do anything to play professional baseball. There certainly has been a lot of conversation with these last couple of months … There have been a lot of questions, and fewer answers, to be honest," Medick said. "There is so much uncertainty more than anything."

As we are about to find out, everyone is different.

Medick, for instance, grew up a diehard Orioles fan before going on to play professionally in Independent Leagues and the Diamondbacks' system. Would he have simply prioritized getting the chance to play in Camden Yards? Not likely. And that is a mindset that should be understood when predicting how this new world picking teams will shake out.

"Let’s say I had the potential to be a mid-round pick," he said. "Knowing what I know now I would certainly guide my younger self and say, ‘Do your due diligence and find out which organization fits with your strengths and can help shore up your weaknesses and allow you to flourish.’ Nobody wants to just play pro ball. Everybody wants to make it to the big leagues and I would want to find that organization that was going to give me that best shot."