Baseball: MLB Draft negotiations were a wild ride for UL's Cantrelle
Tim Buckley, June 12, 2020
The stakes were high. The ride was wild.
Hayden Cantrelle had a blast.
On the night he was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the fifth round of the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball Draft, the former Teurlings Catholic High shortstop who started the past three seasons for UL took command of negotiations and wound up with a deal that had him happy in the end.
But getting there involved navigating a track packed with enough twists, turns, ups and downs to make even those with an iron stomach quite queasy.
It started with the fact the usually 40-round MLB Draft had been cut to just five rounds, trimming the count of players picked from more than 1,200 to just 160 at the same time signing bonus pool money was trimmed — according to an Associated Press report — by nearly $30 million to a combined $235,906,800, all because of the financial impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that infected more than 2 million and killed more than 110,000 nationwide.
“This draft was like no other draft, mainly for the reason that everybody was going under slot the whole time,” Cantrelle said. “So it made it harder for guys like me to try to get what they’re worth.”
Picks are assigned monetary slot values based on a sliding scale, from — according to mlb.com — $8.42 million for No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson, a third baseman from Arizona State, down to $353,700 at Cantrelle’s No. 151 spot and $324,100 at No. 160.
Teams, players and their agents — if they had one — can then negotiate signing bonuses before picks are even made, and afterward as well.
UL's Hayden Cantrelle kneels on third base as the Ragin' Cajuns take on the Northwestern State Demons at M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
“That was a big challenge we faced,” Cantrelle said.
“Basically it just became about playing the waiting game — you know, if we waited long enough and if we were gonna be able to get that deal we wanted.”
'EVERYBODY WAS SAVING MONEY'
Other teams made Cantrelle offers before Milwaukee in the fifth round, and Cantrelle turned them down.
The above-slot but otherwise undisclosed amount he ultimately got from the Brewers was, Cantrelle said, “even hard to come by earlier in the draft.”
But it was the number he was looking for going into the draft, and shortly afterward he said he would be signing.
MLB Draft 2020: Five things being said about UL's Cantrelle in Milwaukee
As the draft unfolded, Cantrelle suggested he focused more on actual offers than assigned slot amounts.
“That wasn’t even a consideration,” he said, “because slot values were completely thrown out the window because everybody was saving money.”
Many clubs evidently offered deals far below slot value.
Some of it was so they could overpay first-round picks and ensure they would sign.
Some of it was so they could save cash to spend on players who had slipped to lower in the draft because they were unwilling to take less than their perceived value.
And some of it was to simply save money in a period of financial instability and uncertainty prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I got calls the whole time — the first day (when just the first round was held) and the second day as well,” Cantrelle said.
“So I was in constant communication (with representatives of teams) the whole time. It was just stressful at first, because there would be a deal on the table, and then the deal would be gone.
“So it’s all about just being patient enough,” he added, “and making sure that you get what you deserve — and sometimes you have to wait to do that.”
HIGH STAKES POKER
At times, Cantrelle felt as if he was playing a game of high stakes poker — and he doesn’t even like low-stakes card games like the ones so many ballplayers are apt to play on long road trips.
“I don’t know how to play poker, period,” he said. “Never even played.
“I’m a music-on-the-bus guy usually.”
Yet here he was, handling the boardroom work almost all by himself.
“Just me,” he said of who was in the room acting on his behalf.
Cantrelle explained why.
“I didn’t want anyone else to have the burden,” he said afterward. “And, also, it’s ‘me.’ It’s my decision.
“I can use some suggestions, really, but I know enough about the process and the way things work that that’s what it takes to get what you want sometimes.
“So I did what I wanted,” added Cantrelle, who did have his father Kevin and an adviser at his disposal if and when needed, “and no one was really going to change my mind about it, so there really was no reason to consult anyone else about it.”
UL coach Matt Deggs, who feels Cantrelle will be “a very good professional” because “the game is not too fast for him” and “he has a really good demeanor and makeup as far as he doesn’t get too high or too low,” is not surprised that is the approach his shortstop took when offers were extended and decisions had to be made.
“He’s ahead of the curve as far as his maturity and his baseball IQ and just his acumen and business sense overall,” Deggs said.
When a team would call, Cantrelle would get up off the couch and go alone into an adjacent room to escape the three dozen or so friends and family members who had gathered in his parents’ living room and kitchen to watch the draft on television.
On occasion a wicked twist here or a sharp turn there left him thinking — no matter how much he was ready and eager to turn pro early as a junior — that he might be headed back for a fourth season with the Cajuns, and the whole draft thing might not work out after all in 2020.
“A few times,” said Cantrelle, who also was selected by the New York Yankees in the 40th round of the 2017 draft coming out of Teurlings.
“I mean, there were a lot of ‘little’ offers in this draft. I mean, really low. I mean, it was almost, like, pathetic to offer me some of these offers. But that’s what some of these teams were (doing). A lot of teams had overspent in their first couple picks, and they were just playing the saving game for the rest of the draft.”
As the night dragged on, Cantrelle’s support group held firm.
“Everybody there stayed the whole time,” he said. “It was great.
“It was a great atmosphere to be able to have one of my dreams in life come true, and everybody was there just waiting and being patient with me.”
Throughout the evening, Cantrelle kept what was happening with various negotiations close to his vest.
Some of those watching on the couch or from behind the kitchen island may have been stressing over was happening as the final round approached, but he did not.
“Not really,” Cantrelle said, “because I knew what was going on.”
And much like any wild ride worth its price of admission, he did not want those buckled in to know what was coming next.
“Everybody was sweating behind me,” Cantrelle said, “because I didn’t tell anybody anything.
“Because I just wanted them to relax and just enjoy the draft. And also wanted to keep them on edge. I mean, that was fun for me. I loved that.”