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Will MLB's new rules cost baseball Kyler Murray?

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Kyler Murray is a highly-regarded baseball player, but MLB's restrictions on amateur spending could result in him playing football instead

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

If you follow Texas high school football, you've almost certainly heard of Kyler Murray.  A senior quarterback at Allen High School, Murray was named the 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year after leading Allen to its third straight state title.  He's 43-0, one of the most highly regarded high school QBs in the nation, and has committed to play football at Texas A&M, the same school where his father, Kevin Murray, played QB in the mid-80s.

What you may not know is that Murray is also considered one of the top high school position player prospects in the 2015 MLB draft.  In September, Kiley McDaniel ranked Murray as the 39th best prospect in the 2015 MLB draft, and spent several paragraphs talking about him being a wild card in this draft.  Matt Garrioch ranked Murray #30 in Minor League Ball's recent 2015 draft rankings.  Baseball America, meanwhile, had Murray ranked #26 in their October draft rankings.

In the old days -- that is, prior to 2012 -- a team could take a two-sport high school athlete with a non-premium pick and try to moneywhip him.  MLB's rules allowed, at that time, bonuses for two-sport athletes to be spread out over a longer period of time, as well.  It made it easier for a player to choose baseball over football, knowing that he was getting a big payday immediately, would be going into a sport that is easier on the body, offers a longer career, and that pays better, and that they could always go back to football if baseball didn't work out.  Quarterbacks, in particular, went that route quite often, with Chris Weinke, Mark Farris, Brandon Weeden, and Josh Booty among those players who returned to school to play quarterback after washing out as a pro baseball player.

The 2012 rule changes, though, in regards to the amateur draft, make it harder for a team to moneywhip someone like Murray.  Each team has a fixed bonus pool available to them, with bonus figures allocated based on each pick the team has in the first ten rounds.  Exceeding that cap by more than 10% results in draconian penalties, and failing to sign a pick results in the complete loss of that pick's bonus pool money.

Teams will manipulate their picks in order to offer later picks more money than their slot would indicate, drafting "signable" players in some of the rounds from three through ten who will take much less than slot money, in order to aggregate the savings for other players.  The Rangers did that in 2012, using savings to pay Joey Gallo high first round money, despite taking him in the supplemental first round, and again in 2013, when they gave 10th rounder Cole Wiper well above slot money.

However, in order for this strategy to work, you have to have a high degree of confidence that the player you want to sign for below-slot will actually sign, as well as a high degree of confidence that you'll be able to apply the savings to your later round pick.  This strategy famously backfired on the Astros in 2014 when their physical raised concerns about the health of #1 overall pick Brady Aiken's elbow, resulting in the Astros not signing Aiken, losing his slot pool, and thus also not being able to sign fourth rounder Jacob Nix, whom they had agreed to a deal with.

So, what does this have to do with Kyler Murray?

Well, in the pre-2012 days, a team could identify Murray as the type of player who is a good candidate to sign to play baseball, even with a football scholarship in hand.  Listed at 5'11", 170 lbs., Murray is much smaller than what the NFL looks for in QBs, meaning that, even if he performs well at Texas A&M, he seems unlikely to end up as a first round pick in the NFL.  His uncle, Calvin Murray, is a former baseball player who works for Scott Boras, and it seems likely that Kyler Murray would be advised by the Boras group.  Teams could take Murray with a later pick and attempt to either moneywhip him with a multi-million dollar bonus, or alternatively, sign him and let him play football in the fall, while playing baseball in the summer, much the way Russell Wilson recently did.

Now, though, if you want to moneywhip Murray, you'd have to build your draft around him.  Murray is the type of player the Rangers love -- good character, good bloodlines, athletic, projectable, high ceiling, as well as being local, which doesn't hurt.  The Rangers' top two picks in the 2015 draft are #4 and #45, with the slot figures for last season for those two spots being $4.621M and $1.25M.

Let's say the Rangers want Murray, and think they can sign him for $3.5 million.  Texas could approach someone like Daz Cameron -- a very similar player to Murray, high-ceiling, projectable, good bloodlines -- who is projected to go in the 7-12 range, and offer to take him at #4 if he'll agree to sign for, say, $3.3 million, which is probably what slot money at #8 or #9 would be.  (That, incidentally, is what the Cubs did with Kyle Schwarber last year, taking him at #4 and signing him to a $3.125M bonus, so they could apply the savings to later picks).

With the $1.5 million savings, the slot money available for the #45 pick, and some savings they could pick up by drafting "signability" guys in the 3rd-4th-5th rounds, the Rangers could then offer Murray $3.5 million to sign.  And I have to think that that sort of offer would be hard for any high school player to pass up, scholarship offer or not.

Here's the problem with this scenario, though...it requires the Rangers, or some other team with a big bonus pool, to think that Murray is worth that sort of bonus, and be willing to structure their entire draft around taking him.  If a team snags Murray between #4 and #45, Texas is screwed.  And if the team isn't sold that Murray will take the deal, they aren't going to jump through those hoops in the first place.

This is the sort of problem, with exactly the sort of player, that prognosticators feared MLB would be running into when they put these draft spending limits in place.  Kyler Murray is the type of player baseball should be pursuing, and he probably has a better future in baseball than he does in football.  The likelihood of him signing a pro baseball contract in 2015, though, is significantly lower than it would have been in 2011, due to the restrictions MLB has put in place.

Murray may end up playing baseball anyway.  Or he may be so committed to playing QB at Texas A&M that he wouldn't sign with any team for whatever amount of money they'd be willing to offer.  But MLB's draft rules have made it much harder to get a player whose future should be in baseball to play baseball professionally as an 18 year old.