Just a few days ago, there became a new free agent. This is not Bartolo Colon. In fact, this player is 18 years old and has zero games of professional experience, but his free agency could potentially shape how we view amateur contracts forever. And no, I’m not exaggerating.
A right-handed pitcher from Clements High School in Sugar Land, Texas, Baltimore Orioles 4th round pick Jack Conlon has become an unrestricted free agent last week, as sources told Robert Murray of FanRag Sports.
Issues with his physical create this unique opportunity for Conlon. Draft rules state that a team must offer at least 40 percent of the pick’s slot value in order to receive a compensation pick for an unsigned player. In that case, Conlon would have had two options: sign the low deal or honor his commitment to Texas A&M University.
The Orioles did not offer Conlon any deal, and he now has a swath of new options after becoming a free agent. The team does not receive a compensation pick. Conlon is now free to sign with any team, and if they do not meet his bonus demands, he can still return to school. According to Baseball America’s Hudson Belinsky, Conlon was expected to sign with the Orioles for a bonus of more than $1 million before they saw something in his medicals that made them balk. The slot value for the 128th selection was $409,000.
Conlon’s free agency could send shockwaves across baseball. Because he was able to listen to offers from all 30 franchises who won’t be using their bonus pool money to sign him, Conlon will have the opportunity to get his fair market value, something almost all draftees do not get from being a part of the amateur draft process. No. 2 pick Hunter Greene, for instance, signed for about $7.3 million. According to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, he would have made at least $50 million in an open market, which is exactly what Conlon is potentially facing.
For teams who are willing to spend, Conlon can be an extra fourth-round pick. He was rated as the No. 239 prospect on the Baseball America Top-500 draft prospect list, as he is armed with a low-90s fastball that can touch 95. He has upside, and as we have seen with the Latin American baseball market, teams are willing to invest in upside.
So, Conlon, picked in a position that may have only netted the average player around $400,000, could make a lot of money. He can weigh his options and ultimately sign with whichever club he likes based upon whatever parameters he wants to set. He can signed with a team because he liked their facilities, he can sign with a team because he likes their development program, or he can sign with a team because they offer him the most money. This is exactly the choice most free agents face; most of them, however, aren’t 18.
The only wild card here is Conlon’s physical. The last draftee to become an unrestricted free agent -- Barret Loux in 2010 -- had agreed to a $2 million bonus with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His physical yielded the news that he had a torn labrum and elbow damage that doctors felt could require surgery in the future. So, Loux did not sign with Arizona and became a free agent before agreeing to a significantly reduced $312,000 bonus with the Texas Rangers.
We don’t know what is wrong with Conlon, but the Orioles allegedly have one of the stricter physical programs in the league. Grant Balfour failed his physical with the team in 2013 but ultimately was given a two-year, $12 million deal by the Tampa Bay Rays, who had no problems with him. Balfour, though, did end up losing some heat on his fastball and was ineffective in Tampa Bay. But, that wasn’t the only instance of them doing something like this, and as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote last February, there is a chance it is because owner Peter Angelos is trying to pinch every penny. This means that Conlon’s physical could look bad to Baltimore but good enough to someone else. And, if enough teams are interested, his price still has the opportunity to be driven up.
Conlon’s talent, in combination with his projectability, make him a really intriguing player to watch over the next few weeks. If his physical truly isn’t a disaster, then he could really be getting the actual value that a player of his age and talent deserves. That’s what is intriguing, at least to me.
By signing somewhere, Conlon can show us this. He could bring the idea of underpaid draftees to the mainstream media. Yes, it’s impossible to know if this will change anything, but at the very least, it could end up benefitting Conlon if this process allows him to earn him more money, after all. And if it does, it could benefit all amateur baseball players in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico that are looking to turn professional by making the league and Player’s Association revisit how draftees are treated.
Jack Conlon has a choice: he can try to change the history of baseball, or he could attend Texas A&M University. I can’t make that choice for him, but if he was thinking about signing with the Orioles already, the least he can do is test his market with the other 29 teams.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.