Maybe It’s Time to Change The PTBNL Rules?

According to the rules of Major League Baseball, a drafted player cannot be traded by his team within the first calendar year of signing his initial contract. According to another rule, however, teams can agree to trade players to another organization without specifying who they are for up to six months, meaning that teams can actually trade drafted players six months and one day after they sign, using the player to be named later loophole.

This is the back door that the Padres are using to ship Trea Turner to the Nationals as part of the Wil Myers trade that should be announced shortly. When the deal is announced, no one is going to officially acknowledge that Turner is part of it; he will simply be referred to as a PTBNL. And then, when spring training starts, he’s going to report to Peoria and train with the Padres. He’s going to stay in their system until June 14th, in fact, meaning that he’ll spend the first two months of the minor league season playing for a team that actually traded him before Christmas.

Back before the internet and the land grab of information, this maybe wasn’t worth worrying about. Now, though, nothing a baseball team does remains in the shadows for too long, and Turner is certainly aware of the fact that he’ll be switching teams in June. And yet, he still has to go to camp with the Padres, play in their minor league system, get treated by their doctors, make friends with their prospects, and bide his time until the rules say he can finally join the organization who sees him as their shortstop of the future.

This just all seems beyond silly. The PTBNL is such an established loophole to the trade exception that it doesn’t really make sense to continue the charade. Teams can currently trade drafted players six months after they sign, so let’s just make that the rule. Why make Turner go through a few months of this? Why make the Nationals sit around and hope that the Padres don’t screw up their asset while they don’t have custody over him? What’s the point of any of it?

The PTBNL can serve a legitimate purpose — trade returns can differ based on how a player performs after a deal, helping mitigate risk when trading for a health risk — but I see no real benefit to requiring teams to use it as a loophole around the trade limitation. Let teams officially trade prospects six months after they sign, as they already can, and let the PTBNL be used for instances where teams actually decide later on who the prospect is going to be. Once everyone agrees to move a kid from one organization to another, how about we just go ahead and let him move?

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This system does seem pretty absurd. The Padres now keep him for the first few months of next season, when they have no reason to want him to succeed? Wierd….


I mean, they have a general and somewhat diffuse incentive to make other organizations think that they are capable of successfully developing prospects rather than screwing them up.