Carter Stewart will not Damage the MLB Draft

Skipping the minors for Japan might be bold, but it doesn’t necessarily make Carter Stewart a trail blazer.

You just turned 19 years old and were offered over $2 million to play baseball in a quaint, small town in upstate New York or the Appalachian Mountains. That $2 million will have to last you a few years, because your actual salary will be peanuts, but if you stay healthy and progress as expected, your salary will balloon above half-a-million a year once you’re in the big leagues, and potentially, millions beyond that.

Not bad, huh? There’s a reason virtually everyone afforded the above opportunity signs on the dotted line immediately.

Everyone except Carter Stewart.

Stewart was drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Braves in 2018, a draft slot worth nearly $5 million in MLB’s setup. But after a prior wrist injury was uncovered in his post-draft physical, the Braves offered Stewart a signing bonus of just $2 million. Stewart opted to not sign and brought in super-agent Scott Boras to represent him following the August 15 deadline that came and went without Stewart and the Braves reaching an agreement.

- Advertisement - 

Now, 10 months after that decision and as a projected second-round pick in his second go-round as a draft prospect, Stewart has chosen to take the long way to the majors by signing a six-year deal for $7 million with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

Boras seems to think that he’s found a loophole that could impact the future of the MLB draft system and potentially even the way team control and arbitration are handled. But the allure of The Show and the comforts of home will continue to prevail over the long play Boras has set up for his newest client.

Staying in the United States is still the safer bet

There are a handful of positives to the path Boras has paved for Stewart.

First and most obviously, earning $7 million over six years is better than $2 million in six. Second and perhaps even more attractive is the ability to hit international free agency at the age of 25 after the expiration of the six-year deal.

As part of an MLB organization, Stewart likely would not hit free agency until at least age 27, depending on how soon he reaches the major leagues. That means that by signing in Japan, he can theoretically make millions per year in salary several years sooner than if he signed in the U.S., and he’ll hit free agency at the start of his prime years instead of in their middle.

But the positives stop there. Consider the traditional path.

As a dominant prospect, Stewart would likely move through the minor league system rather quickly. Those first couple of years of earning only a few thousand dollars as a salary could move by quickly, giving way to the MLB-minimum rookie salary of $575,000 as soon as he makes it to the big leagues.

Sure, that’s still less than the million-plus per year Stewart will average overseas, but here’s the thing: he’d be playing in the MLB and not in Japan’s NPB. If getting to the bigs as fast as possible is the goal, then achieving said goal several years faster matters. In many ways, it’s the same reason that dozens of basketball players spend years playing in the D-League for under $30,000 per year rather than making an easy six-figures overseas: the NBA is that much closer, and the dangling carrot hanging out even one iota closer to your face is all the convincing many players need to stay stateside.

And don’t discount the comforts of home. Even if it’s spending a summer in a tourist hub in Florida playing in front of a few hundred retirees or a season in a glorious outpost like Ogden or Grand Junction, it’s still the good ol’ U-S-of-A, and for most of these prospects, the idea of the known and comfortable has a much stronger pull than the fear of the unknown — and understandably so.

Not all first-round picks make it to the bigs, of course, but the accessibility of a quick call-up for a cup of coffee with the big club is ever-present. While playing for, and pardon my French here, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, there isn’t an end in sight until the end of the six-year pact.

How MLB can get in front of a potential issue

The Stewart situation is no doubt at least a little embarrassing for Major League Baseball. Injury or not, a team offering a player less than half the bonus money allocated to their draft slot is a bad look for everyone.

But before the cries to revamp the entire draft process and minor league system get louder as the 2021 expiration of the current deal looms — there’s already has the massive free agency slowdown that will have to be addressed, after all — MLB should begin plotting how they can get in front of any future Carter Stewarts.

The easy answer is to increase the slot money in the first couple rounds and begin allowing the trading of draft picks — not all too dissimilar from the recent changes made to the international signing process. Making the top portion of the draft that much more top-heavy in regards to potential signing bonuses would work, as the immediate incentive of, say, $8 million versus $7 million spread out across six years should be more than enough to keep all draftees in the U.S. That would immediately squelch this fancy end-around Boras has concocted.

Trading picks could be an option, too. If any of the other 29 teams were willing to pay Stewart more than the $2 million offered by Atlanta, the Braves could have moved him elsewhere and recouped assets in return, Stewart could have stayed stateside, and MLB would have kept a top prospect in their minor league system.

Only the first couple rounds even need to be addressed; a mid-to-late round pick would already be incentivized to stay with the MLB club that drafts them as the money they’d be offered overseas likely wouldn’t be enough to convince them to abandon their dream of reaching the major leagues. Japanese teams won’t pay top dollar for organizational depth.

We’re really only talking about the marquee guys — who just so happen to be the guys that MLB can’t afford to lose.

So does Carter Stewart’s move mean anything at all?

Sure. Scott Boras is still Borassing his way around, putting the ass in Borassing, finding loopholes and backchannels to manipulate the system and giving us intriguing scenarios to talk about.

But outside of the fact that someone finally broke the ice on this oft-rumored option, Stewart’s relocation to the NPB likely won’t be the start of an avalanche of top talent heading across the Pacific — or even a trickle, for that matter.

If MLB has their wits about them, which they have managed to do for the most part under Commissioner Rob Manfred, they can find a way to nip this news story in the bud and fix the opening rounds of the draft without having to tear down and rebuild the entire minor league system.

And while the idea that players in the minors deserve to be paid a livable wage shouldn’t be controversial, that issue can and should be solved separately from that of top prospects spurning their new MLB clubs in favor of locking into a long-term deal overseas.

Ultimately, the Stewart situation should lead Major League Baseball to move towards adjusting the draft system and process, starting with the first round and working its way down to everyone in the minors. But MLB can’t afford to have multiple high-profile prospects standing them up in the future, and they’d be best-served to find a solution to bring to the table at the next CBA negotiations in 2021.

Major League Baseball already has stars, including veteran free agents Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel doing damage to the system by sitting things out. The last thing they need is 19-year-old Carter Stewart trying to burn the candle at the other end, too.

Ben Beecken
Ben Beecken
Ben Beecken is a writer at Grandstand Central with a primary focus on the NBA, MLB, and NFL. He has spent nearly a decade working on the business side of sports including eight seasons in minor league baseball team front offices. Ben is also an editor and writer at Dunking With Wolves and a contributor across the FanSided network.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


The Latest

NFL Vernon Davis acting career after football.

Vernon Davis on Football, Acting, and Life Beyond the Gridiron

Vernon Davis is no longer just a retired NFL tight end. Now he’s an actor, a producer, an entrepreneur, and more. Davis tells all in a sprawling interview.
cupping therapy

What is “cupping therapy” and does it actually work?

Cupping therapy came into the public eye when Olympian Michael Phelps was seen with circular bruise-type marks on his scapula (shoulder blade), neck, and shoulder. 

U.S. Women’s Soccer Wouldn’t Be Where it is Today without Jill Ellis

Jill Ellis has the most successful coaching career in all soccer history and after two consecutive World Cups, she's saying goodbye.
wendy hilliard gymnastics

Wendy Hilliard On Making Gymnastics Accessible

Plus, the meaning of life after sports.

The Rise of Major League Eating, America’s New Favorite Pastime

Major League Eating made competitive eating a successful, nation-wide sport and it all trails back to a hot dog eating contest from way back when.
Art Shamsky Amazin' Mets

Art Shamsky on Aging and the Amazin’ Mets

Plus, his thoughts on the Hall and missing out on the Big Red Machine.

get the latest stories about the intersection of sports with money, power and media.