Major League Baseball's deadline for signing draft picks passed on Sunday evening, and with it so did the chances of right-hander Kumar Rocker, the No. 10 selection, joining the New York Mets. An agreement worth a $6 million signing bonus went by the wayside after a post-draft medical revealed arm damage that alarmed the Mets. (Though some people in the Mets front office believe Rocker could have a fruitful career.) The Mets will now gain a compensatory pick in next year's draft, No. 11 overall, and they'll continue to draw criticism from all corners of the league for an unforced error in how they laid out their draft strategy.
For all the focus on the Mets' side of things, a more important question concerns what comes next for Rocker. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, he won't be eligible to join an MLB club by any route other than the 2022 draft. (If that sounds unfair, Mets owner Steven Cohen unwittingly pointed out how draftees are massively undercompensated relative to the value they create for franchises.)
That leaves Rocker with a few options on how to spend the next 10 months. He's reportedly ruled out is a return to Vanderbilt, where he could have benefitted from the NCAA's new NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) guidelines.
So what else can Rocker do? Let's break down the three paths.
1. Independent baseball
Rocker signing with an independent league team is the most straightforward option, and it's the one that has the most historical precedents. One of the top recent examples of how this works involves Luke Hochevar.
Hochevar, like Rocker, was advised by Scott Boras when the Los Angeles Dodgers selected him 40th in the 2005 draft. The long story short -- and the long story involves two representation changes, among other dramatic flairs -- is that Boras advised Hochevar against signing with the Dodgers, and instead guided him to the Fort Worth Cats of the American Association.
Hochevar made four starts with the Cats and was able to improve upon his draft status, to the extent that the Kansas City Royals selected him No. 1 in 2006. Boras' gambit paid off, too, as Hochevar's signing bonus was more than $500,000 richer than the Dodgers' reported offer.
Boras repeated the same indy ball trick several years later with James Paxton, the 37th selection in the 2009 draft. The Toronto Blue Jays offered him less than $900,000 to sign, but that didn't get the deal done. Comments made by a Toronto executive then caused Paxton to lose his eligibility at Kentucky (that, predictably, resulted in a legal battle). Boras led Paxton to the Grand Prairie AirHogs, with whom he started four times before the 2010 draft.
Paxton slipped to the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round, yet his $942,500 signing bonus still exceeded the Jays' offer.
Rocker's situation isn't directly comparable to either Hochevar's or Paxton's because of the medical angle and because of how the landscape has changed with slotting. Still, Rocker making a handful of appearances with the Milwaukee Milkmen or the Kansas City Monarchs before trying his hand again in the draft would seem to be the likeliest outcome.