Kyler Murray is king, and the A’s and MLB are his subjects

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If the A’s lost Murray because they couldn’t give him more money or just didn’t want to, that’d be their own fault and not his problem. Don’t blame the elite athlete for using his leverage.

Kyler Murray is a man with options, and as a Monday deadline approaches for players to declare for the NFL Draft, the A’s signee and Oklahoma QB is exploring all of them.

One report says he’s asking for $15 million to play for the A’s and not leave baseball for football. A connected A’s beat reporter says that’s not right, but that the team and Murray’s camp are negotiating something else:

To start with the obvious, it’s great if Murray is trying to squeeze every possible cent out of the A’s. It’s also fine if he doesn’t play for them, for whatever reason. Please don’t respond, “He signed a contract.”

He sure did! The A’s gave him about a $4.7 million signing bonus after they made him the No. 9 overall pick. He made almost much money as his head football coach last year.

The A’s let Murray play one more year of college football after signing his deal. They didn’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they thought it’d be fun to watch their future center fielder be attacked 70 times per game by 280-pound men trying to slam him to the ground. They did it because Murray had leverage and wanted to play.

Then Murray had one of the best seasons in college football history. At the time he signed with the A’s, he was a former five-star recruit who had never gotten meaningful reps as a college QB. Now he’s a Heisman winner. His circumstances have changed. As the NFL shifts farther and farther toward the kind of college spread offense Murray ran to devastating effect with the Sooners, some evaluators now see the 5’9 Murray as a first-round pick.

Being a first-round pick in the NFL would instantly net Murray way more than his A’s bonus. He’d also get to be a football big leaguer right away and skip a year or three of riding buses.

After the report came out that said Murray was trying to get $15 million out of the A’s, some people were surprised and saddened that he might try to go back on that deal at all.

“The A’s don’t deserve this,” ESPN’s Dari Nowkhah tweeted, then added:

Whether the A’s “deserve it” has nothing to do with it. Whether it “feels right” also has nothing to do with it. When Murray signed with the A’s, he agreed to become an employee. Sometimes, employees get more attractive job offers and leave. College coaches do it all the time, despite having years left on their contracts.

If Murray decides to break his contract with the A’s, he owes them whatever their contract says he owes them — probably money — and nothing else.

Sure, it’s possible the A’s aren’t allowed to give Murray whatever he wants. But that’s the A’s’ and the league’s own fault, and it’s not Murray’s problem.

The people who own Major League Baseball teams have worked efficiently to make sure young ballplayers are paid as little money as possible.

Since 1922, MLB’s used an exemption from federal antitrust law to maximize its control of players, including by denying them free agency until a rogue arbitrator intervened in 1975. The sport’s generally become much friendlier to players in recent decades, thanks in huge part to its union, the MLB Players Association, and to teams realizing it costs to contend.

But the union has not stopped owners from taking advantage of young players. It still takes six full seasons in the majors for a player to hit free agency and get what the market says he’s worth — provided teams are willing to spend on free agents, which they’re often not.

The lower you go, the worse it gets. Groups representing the owners have gotten Congress to exempt minor leaguers from standard federal labor protections, meaning many of the players in MLB systems don’t make a living wage. In the last few years, the league’s gotten the union to agree to caps and penalties for spending too much in the draft or on international signings. These are just SparkNotes on how baseball holds down wages.

One of the things owners have gotten into the collective bargaining agreement is that Oakland would’ve risked losing future money for spending much above the $4.76 million “slot value” for the ninth overall pick it spent on Murray. Baseball’s rules put a low, artificial cap on what Murray could make until he’s spent six full years in the bigs.

So, a rule designed to make the A’s owners richer might prevent them from doing what they need to do to keep Murray from football.

Murray hasn’t joined the A’s’ system yet. Thus, if they gave him more money now, or made some other accommodation outside the norm for him, the league might find that the deal violated this part of the Major League Rules:

No Club or player (including their designated representatives) may enter into any understanding, agreement, or transaction, or make any representation, whether implied or explicit, that is designed to defeat or circumvent the provisions of [the rule about what draft picks can make] … A non-exclusive list of conduct that is strictly prohibited includes: (i) providing, paying or promising a player, his advisor or his family members anything of value other than the compensation and benefits contained in the Minor League contract; (ii) promising, representing, or committing that the player will be placed on the Major League Roster by a particular date (including, for example, guaranteeing a September call-up); and (iii) promising, representing, or committing to sign the player to another Minor League contract or Major League contract in the future, or to provide additional compensation or benefits under the extant contract.

But the league — maybe worried about losing a marketable star or furthering the idea other sports are more attractive options for kids to play? — might not get in the way:

Another possible path:

There are several possible outcomes here. All of them should end with Murray doing whatever he wants and nobody feeling bad for the A’s.

Outcome 1: The A’s give Murray more money or some kind of special accommodating, and MLB allows it.

Outcome 2: The A’s can’t give Murray more money or a special accommodation, because MLB won’t allow it.

Outcome 3: The A’s choose not to give Murray any of that, even though MLB allows it, because they’d rather pay less money than have Murray play for them.

Outcome 4: Murray leaves baseball for football for any reason he chooses and follows the same process anyone under contract would while changing jobs in the U.S. economy.

The A’s ownership and colleagues around the league instituted rules designed to prevent people like Murray from making what they’re worth. If Murray doesn’t wind up playing for them, they can cry him a river, but he’ll have no reason to feel bad.

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