One of my hopes for this year has been for Craig Kimbrel and/or Dallas Keuchel to sign with a team in Japan’s NPB. Teams have been willing to give innings to replacement level scrubs and feign poverty rather than opening their wallets for a player that would make their team much better.
I’m sure at least one team is accounting for the possibility of either pitcher taking a discount to sign for half a season. It’d be a hell of a power move for either pitcher to say that MLB isn’t good enough for them and go to Japan where they can dominate and make more money while the Nationals miss the playoffs because they had Justin Miller on the mound a few too many times.
As much as I would like for Keuchel and Kimbrel to go to Japan, that probably won’t happen. But the next best thing will. 19-year-old Carter Stewart, the eighth overall pick from the 2018 draft didn’t sign with the Braves last year. Instead of re-entering the 2019 draft, he has instead signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. This is brilliant.
Stewart’s contract with the Hawks is for six-years and $7 million. Over the next six years, Stewart will make far more money than he would have made in MLB. Even considering his signing bonus and a fast track to the big leagues, Stewart would have made around $3.5 million.
1. Carter Stewart's next 6 years an approximation.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) May 22, 2019
Japan: 6 year, $7 million.
Stays in US. Optimistically let's say he's an early 2nd round pick. $2 million bonus.
2019: $2 million+$3,500 in salary.
2020: Let's say LoA. $6,500 in salary.
2021: HiA/AA. $8,100 in salary. (Cont.)
Stewart’s stock has fallen a bit in the last year since he suffered a wrist injury, so shoring up earnings in the immediate future better protects him in case he struggles. But if he pitches well, he has set himself up for even greater earnings in the long run.
At the end of his contract in Japan, he’ll be eligible to sign a free agent contract in MLB. If he had entered the draft, he’d be entering his first or second year of arbitration when he’s 25 and he wouldn’t be entering free agency until he was 27 or 28. Those extra years could be huge. Unlike Keuchel, he’ll reach free agency in the prime of his career.
Stewart hasn’t been the only high-profile player to eschew the MLB draft. Kyler Murray opted to play football, but he and Stewart shared a common reason for kicking MLB to the curb. The immediate returns for entering the MLB draft aren’t as great as other sports and league.
We probably won’t see a ton of other prospects follow Stewart’s lead. There likely aren’t enough spots open in NPB to accommodate a mass exodus from the draft class, and this is only an option for the truly coveted players. The best option for late-round picks is still to muddle through the minors and hope for the best. But this might be enough to force MLB to reconsider how top draft picks can be compensated.
It might even be added evidence that service time rules need to be amended in the next CBA. If teams didn’t have all the power when it came to service time, maybe players wouldn’t need to consider other leagues.
Even if no one follows him, Stewart has found a loophole for MLB’s system that screws over young players, and for that, he should be applauded.