Kyler Murray Would Be Foolish to Burn Easier NFL Riches for High-Risk MLB Future

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2019

FILE - In this June 15, 2018, file photo, Oakland Athletics draft pick Kyler Murray looks on before a baseball game between the Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels in Oakland, Calif. Representatives of the Athletics and Major League Baseball met Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, with Heisman Trophy winner Murray, a day before the Oklahoma quarterback’s deadline to enter the NFL draft, a person with direct knowledge of the session said. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Kyler Murray has proved he's no fool.

Murray was drafted into Major League Baseball in June by the Oakland Athletics, who selected him as an outfielder with the No. 9 pick and promptly signed him to a $4.7 million bonus.

Since then, the 21-year-old has kept himself busy by playing quarterback well enough for the Oklahoma Sooners to become the program's second consecutive Heisman Trophy winner. That begat a big decision of whether he should declare for the National Football League draft by Monday's deadline.

Early in the afternoon, the man himself announced his decision on Twitter:

As MLB.com's Jane Lee noted, Murray's decision was merely a procedural move.

He's still under contract with the A's. Things will get interesting in February, wherein the A's open spring training on the 15th and the NFL combine starts on the 26th. Because it's already been decided that Murray can't play both baseball and football, next month is when another decision will be in order.

Though MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported Murray would have to give back his signing bonus if he spurns the A's and MLB, doing exactly that and going all-out for an NFL career is about as no-brainery as no-brainers get.

It's not that Murray's some slouch as a baseball player. He was a top-10 pick, after all, and he draws comparisons to some of the greatest talents in the sport's history.

"The big one is Rickey Henderson," said Murray himself in reference to the Hall of Famer and all-time steals leader, per Lee. "I've watched a lot of his film. Great player, great legend, obviously, but I'm pretty confident in my own skills."

According to Joel Anderson and Jake Trotter of ESPN.com, one MLB executive went with a current superstar who's won two American League MVPs: "[Murray's] that type of freak athlete, where the fact that he had a stunted development and didn't play for a couple of years might not matter. That's like Mike Trout-type athletic."

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  looks on prior to a game against the Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium on September 25, 2018 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Per MLB.com, Murray's hit, power, speed and fielding tools rate as average or better. Ironically, the one that doesn't make the grade is his arm. But as evidenced by Trout, one need not have a rocket arm to become a superstar center fielder as long as everything else checks out.

But now for the catch: Murray's baseball talent is raw.

He played baseball well enough in high school that he might have been a first-round pick in the 2015 draft had he not opted out of it to pursue a two-sport career at Texas A&M. But after he transferred to Oklahoma later that year, he missed the 2016 baseball season. A year later, he played just 27 games with only 49 at-bats for the Sooners.

Though Murray rescued his stock last spring by slashing .296/.398/.556 with 10 home runs and 10 steals in 51 games, his rawness manifested in a 25.1 percent strikeout rate. A player like this is more high-ceiling than high-floor. That means the A's couldn't skimp on minor league development time for Murray, which in turns means he'd probably be looking at a 2021 ETA for his major league debut.

Murray would only be entitled to the major league minimum ($555,000) through 2023 or 2024. Only after that would he start earning bigger paydays via arbitration, but there would be three years of that before a (perhaps) bigger free-agent payday after 2026 or 2027. He'd be 30 years old in the latter season.

Last week, ESPN's Adam Schefter (via NFL reporter Dov Kleiman) floated the possibility that Murray could go as high as No. 1 overall to the Arizona Cardinals in April's NFL draft:

It's not just Schefter who has suggested Murray is worthy of the No. 1 pick. Former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury gave Murray that much credit in October. This same Kingsbury is now the Cardinals' head coach.

If he's not the No. 1 overall selection, the sense Bleacher Report's Matt Miller got from 10 NFL scouts and executives is that Murray is a "lock" for the first round. Based on the numbers he just put up—4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns passing and 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing—that seems reasonable.

At either end of the first round, Murray would be in line for better money than he got from the A's. To wit, Murray's former Oklahoma teammate Baker Mayfield collected a $21.9 million signing bonus and $32.7 million overall as the No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Browns last year. Even all the way down at No. 32, Lamar Jackson got a $5.0 million bonus and $9.5 million total from the Baltimore Ravens.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 30: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens hugs quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns after the Baltimore Ravens 26-24 win over Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Balti
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Neither of them had to wait long to start. Chances are Murray wouldn't have to either. And because it's easier than ever for quarterbacks to succeed in the NFL—Kevin Clark of The Ringer has more on that—Murray could also quickly follow Mayfield's and Jackson's paths to early stardom.

It would soon be time for Murray to get paid even more. If his rookie contract resembled Mayfield's and Jackson's—four years with a club option for a fifth—he would likely become a free agent after the 2023 season. If he hadn't signed a big deal before then, that would be his path to one.

With football, there's the obvious concern of a serious injury ruining everything during or after Murray's career. But quarterback has always been a relatively safe position, and the NFL has been going to extremes to make it even safer.

Murray is thus in the best position possible for a long career in the NFL, and he could earn far more than he ever could as an MLB outfielder. Here's JJ Cooper of Baseball America with a helpful breakdown:

In the face of this, all the A's can do in the next few weeks is try to entice Murray with more money up front. To this end, WFAA's Mike Leslie reported Murray's magic number is $15 million.

That isn't accurate, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. But in light of what he could earn via the NFL draft, $15 million might actually be a conservative estimate of what it would take for the A's to sway Murray. Mind you, any extra money the A's give him would have to come in the form of a major league contract and a spot on their 40-man roster.

Even then, though, Murray's timeline wouldn't necessarily be accelerated.

The only real stipulation (h/t Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times) is that he would have to be with the A's on a full-time basis by 2022, when he'd be in the last of four minor league option years. He'd still have to prove himself in the minors beforehand, and he'd still be six or seven years from free agency upon joining the A's.

To boot, baseball free agency could disappoint Murray. Big bucks have become scarce enough on the last two free-agent markets to raise concerns about a possible work stoppage in the near future. Perhaps the crisis will be resolved when MLB and the MLB Players Association negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires in 2021. Then again, perhaps it won't.

If Murray does end up choosing football, MLB will have some serious soul-searching to do about what it must change to have a shot at retaining similar exceptional talents in the future.

The NFL, meanwhile, should be more than happy to have Murray if he goes through its door. Football is what he does best, so he could be worth as many pennies as the sport sends his way.

   

Stats courtesy of D1Baseball.com and Sports Reference. Contract data courtesy of Spotrac.

Related

    Deepest Roster Ever? Dodgers Just Might Have It

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Deepest Roster Ever? Dodgers Just Might Have It

    MLB.com
    via MLB.com

    Why A's Frankie Montas feels no pressure after 80-game PED suspension

    Oakland Athletics logo
    Oakland Athletics

    Why A's Frankie Montas feels no pressure after 80-game PED suspension

    NBCS Bay Area
    via NBCS Bay Area

    Why A's closer Liam Hendriks never lets himself feel comfortable

    Oakland Athletics logo
    Oakland Athletics

    Why A's closer Liam Hendriks never lets himself feel comfortable

    NBCS Bay Area
    via NBCS Bay Area

    Tebow to Play for Philippines in World Baseball Classic 🇵🇭

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Tebow to Play for Philippines in World Baseball Classic 🇵🇭

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report