Olney calls rules for unsigned draft picks a ‘joke,’ argues Rocker should be a free agent

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In the span of a few months, Vanderbilt prodigy Kumar Rocker went from the likely No. 1 pick in this year’s draft to the equivalent of baseball purgatory, left to contemplate his MLB future after failing to strike a deal with the Mets ahead of Sunday’s deadline. Despite concern over his pitching elbow, Rocker’s agent, Scott Boras, insists the Most Outstanding Player of the 2019 College World Series is healthy and ready to pitch. The question is … where?

After being passed on by the Mets, who reneged on their verbal agreement to pay the right-hander a $6-million signing bonus (which would have been well above his $4.7-million slot value), Rocker should, at least in theory, be eligible for free agency. However, due to stipulations in MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, that’s not the case.

Rocker’s choices are fairly limited. The 21-year-old could return to school for his senior season at Vanderbilt and—thanks to the NCAA’s new NIL policy allowing student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness—probably make some good dough in the process. The more likely scenario, however, is Rocker spending the remainder of 2021 training on his own for next year’s draft or beginning his professional career in independent ball.

Obviously, Rocker's preference would be to sign with a team of his choosing as quickly as possible, but unfortunately, that avenue isn't available to him. Baseball expert Buster Olney of ESPN blames that on flawed draft rules that needs to be addressed in the next CBA, calling MLB’s current system a “joke.”

Olney presents an interesting argument, opining that unsigned picks should be allowed to test the market in the absence of a fair offer (80 percent of slot value) from the team that drafted them.

In response to criticism over how the team handled the Rocker situation, Mets owner Steve Cohen called draft picks an “investment” while implying Rocker didn’t offer the kind of “return” he was looking for. Though not dissimilar to strategies employed by small-market clubs like Tampa Bay and Oakland (both ruthless in their approach to compensating players), Cohen’s remarks were received poorly with many citing the Mets’ tactics as a textbook example of “player suppression.”

As noted by Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline, of the 312 players chosen in the first 10 rounds of last month’s draft, only three were unsigned—Rocker, Red Sox second-round pick Jud Fabian and fourth-rounder Alex Ulhoa, who couldn’t reach a deal with Houston before Sunday’s deadline. For failing to sign Rocker, New York will be awarded a compensatory first-round pick (11th overall) in 2022.

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