Addressing Baseball's Broken Systems: The Draft

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workersunite.jpgGiven all the talk about baseball economics and unfair advantages afforded to deep-pocketed clubs, and Chief Wahoo's passionate screed and the equally dismissive passionate commentary that followed, I thought I'd take a couple ideas I've had kicking around my head and see if we can't think of a way to make the draft process work for everyone. This is especially important these days when the economic disparity is so great (between teams that own their own TV networks and those that must pay to get their games on local TV.)

It is a most delicate process, as the interests of keeping the field level for small market teams must be tempered by the union and its fight to ensure the players are "fairly compensated." As an unapologetic Canadian pinko, there is no way in hell I'm interested in imposing a hard slotting system on player bonuses as in the NBA, because Andrea Bargnani ain't no Lebron James just as Bryan Bullington ain't no Stephen Strasburg.

Without overhauling the entire basis of baseball business, how can even the playing field for teams handcuffed by penny-pinching owners? One simple way: allow trading draft picks.

One of the main complaints about the existing slotting system (merely a guideline and often dismissed out of hand) is it prevents struggling clubs from drafting the best players available to them as they are unable to meet their bonus/salary demands. If we allow draft picks to be traded, teams can either select the best player(s) or entertain offers from teams more in the stud's price range. As I see it, allow trading draft picks until 2 weeks after the signing deadline, currently August 15th. If a potential trading partner is willing to work with the agent's number, the drafting team can sweeten the pot. If the unsigned player isn't traded, he goes back into the draft with the original drafting team receiving the current level of compensation.

This is seemingly minor change that could benefit all teams. The big spenders can still flex their might but the little guys have more leverage. The draftees don't have to sacrifice much aside from the increased chance of playing in Pittsburgh. Giving quoteunderfundedunquote teams the opportunity to draft the best available players is really all anyone can expect of any amateur draft.

The international draft scene is rife with landmines (seriously, the Cambodian baseball association is an international force!) and attempting to impose North American labor law didn't work where my shoes, jeans, computer, car, hat, phone, or food were made, why would it work in baseball?

Full draft rules and regulations available here (Wikipedia. Shhh).


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7 Comments

So how would this stop the Royals from selling their #1 pick to the Yankees year in and year out for a mere bag of shells? Will it really give them leverage to say "Hey, we can't afford to pay Johnny Prospect his $32 million bonus demand but we'll dangle him in front of your heavily-funded franchise for two weeks before we release him back into the pond for next year"?

I think the key distinction is trade not sell. Trades amount to selling true; but at least get other tangible assets back in return for a player out of your price range.

We should also hope the baseball operations people are able to operate independent of the bean-counting arms. Maybe that would help the Royals though. It would keep them from fucking it up and dealing with getting no return on their investment.

If trading draft picks were allowed, Dave Littlefield would've traded off every pick the Pirates have for the next decade for a painful assortments of Jeromy Burnitzes and Joe Randas.

And while I understand the sentiment that all #1 picks aren't created equal and slotting might not work, Bullington's a bad example because the Pirates thought BJ Upton would be too difficult to sign, which lead to the "safe" Bullington pick.

Honestly, the biggest problem now is that guys like Porcello and Matzek and every Boras client ever have held small market teams over a barrel the last few years, putting the fear of god into them that if they draft them, they'll be wasting a high draft pick. Most of the time, the small market clubs are able get the job done, but wouldn't allowing rights trades after the draft give the prospects/agents more leverage over small market teams? The only reason guys like Strasburg and Pedro Alvarez sign with teams like the Nationals and Pirates is because it's a better option than sitting out a year. If they could force their hand after the draft, no one would ever sign with the teams drafting in the top ten and they'd be forced to make bad trades just to get some value from the pick.

There is more than one Joe Randa? Run! Run for the hills!

Bryan Bullington is my motivation behind this whole deal. If the Pirates know they can't pay Upton but draft him anyway, at least they can get something in return rather than picking up the lesser talent.

If the Rays or Red Sox or whomever are willing to meet Boras's demands, shouldn't the Pirates get a piece of that action, perhaps a lower pick with something else thrown in?

I like the idea of trading draft picks, but where's the leverage for small market teams? Teams know which guys are hard to sign. If Can't-Miss Prospect A has huge bonus demands, and, say, the Nationals draft him and aren't prepared/willing to pay him, any team that they have trade talks with is going to know that already. Where's the incentive for the Tigers to provide them with a good player and/or a lot of cash in exchange for the troublesome draftee when the attrition rate for draft picks is so high anyway? The most useful way to trade draft picks would be the way every other sport does it, where they can be included in regular trades. But even then, draft picks in MLB are worth less than they are in other sports, where draftees are more successful.

In fact, I would argue that the draft itself isn't broken at all; sure, the slotting system is antiquated and annoying, but the real problem is that it's so difficult for any draft pick to make it to the bigs. To say that teams can't afford to pay their draft picks is only partly true; they can afford the actual salary, but not the risk that high salaries carry. And, really, there's no way to fix that.

I think the small market teams still maintain a modicum of leverage by maintaining the current compensation system if they don't sign. The big teams know Johnny 5 tools won't sign with the Marlins for slot, but they Marlins still don't HAVE to deal him. They can let him walk and he's back in the pool, wasting a year in the process.

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