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August 21, 2008

Future Shock

Post-Draft Thoughts 2.0

by Kevin Goldstein

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The New Deadline Is An Absolute Failure In Every Way Imaginable

When Major League Baseball instituted the new draft rules beginning in 2007, the most consequential change they made was setting the deadline of August 15 for signing that year's draft picks, giving teams roughly nine weeks to sign their players. Team officials frankly weren't sure what it would ultimately mean to the draft, but they surely understood the intentions. The goal was to end the 11-month holdouts that were becoming all too common, and to provide more leverage to the teams during negotiations. Over the course of the first two years, the exact opposite has happened.

If anything, 2007 was the test case, and there was one clear conclusion to be drawn from the results-those that waited, got paid. Players and agents took notice, and this year more of them than ever followed suit. What MLB really did was to make it more expedient to hold out, since two idle months are much easier to cope with on the player's side than the possibility of nearly a full year away from the game.

In addition, MLB has only added to the problem by mandating additional holdouts behind the scenes. There is a truckload of evidence that several seven-figure deals for non first-round picks were agreed upon-at least the terms-well before the signing deadline, and that the powers that be coerced the teams into delaying announcements of those deals out of fear that they'd create greater inflation in the market. Unfortunately, that inflation is more organic than they'd like to believe, and holding those signings back only resulted in more players deciding to wait, and simply steered that inflation down an alternate road.

As long as there's a slotting system that is merely "suggested," the players will always have the upper-hand in terms of leverage, because teams need talent, and they need to sign their draft picks. That said, many are suggesting another move of the deadline to July 15. The purpose of this would not be to gain any additional leverage in negotiations, as that's simply not going to happen, but rather to get the players playing baseball. The value of 30-50 games in a complex or short-season league should not be discounted. It takes care of the acclimation period to the professional game, and gives teams some valuable early information on how and where to slot the talent into their system the following year. That 'head start' has meant a big difference in the development of many players, and with the current situation allowing for players to simply sit around and wait to negotiate until the last minute, why not just concede the bonuses that are going to be what they are no matter what, and move that last minute to a point where players would still be able to get six weeks' worth of games in?

Such a deadline was discussed at this week's scouting meetings in Arizona, and the response was generally favorable. It would require a modification of the current CBA, but there is reason to believe that the union might be open to such a change. The only real obstacle seems to be that some general managers fear that there could be time-management conflicts with the trading deadline. Still, the two-week window between the proposed July 15 signing deadline and the July 31 trading deadline would be no different than the time between the two current deadlines.

Let's hope that this gets done. Stop worrying about bonuses that in the grand scheme of the baseball economy add up to a pittance, and start worrying more about getting guys onto the playing field.

Unfair Bashing Of Coonelly

I just don't get this one. Both before and after the negotiations with top pick Pedro Alvarez, story after story came out discussing the irony of Pirates president Frank Coonelly, once charged with enforcing MLB's toothless slotting system, now negotiating a deal with the second overall pick in the draft, Pedro Alvarez, who required a well over-slot bonus in order to ensure his signing.

Is there really any irony here? Some even went as far as to classify Coonelly as something of a hypocrite, which is downright ridiculous. Before taking his position with the Pirates, Coonelly was a senior vice president and a chief labor negotiator in the commissioner's office. One of his many responsibilities was overseeing the slotting system, which meant that he was the man who teams dreaded to call when they intended to go over the recommended slot. He was the man who called the general managers, and even team owners, to try to convince them to do otherwise, and to explain to them that what they were doing was bad for baseball. While it's interesting to now see Coonelly on the other side of the negotiating table, I don't understand how anyone can find any contradiction in the situation.

When he was in the commissioner's office, enforcing the slotting system was Coonelly's job, and that's all it was. He was by all accounts highly competent, and one of the most powerful and influential people in the major league's executive offices. In other words, he was really, really good at his job. Now then, think about your job; I imagine that you may be faced with situations and charged with performing tasks that are not completely to your liking. I personally know that I have what many would characterize as a dream job-hell, I'd characterize it that way myself-but even I have to do things that I don't necessarily agree with, and I'm expected to do them well. Frank Coonelly was not some kind of evangelist, he had simply been assigned the role of an enforcer, and that's a responsibility that absolutely cannot be fulfilled without ruffling some feathers along the way. That doesn't mean he necessarily liked it, and that doesn't necessarily mean he agreed with everything he was being asked to do. What he was doing was what was considered (rightly or wrongly) to be in the best interest of Major League Baseball.

Coonelly now no longer works for MLB; he works for the Pittsburgh Pirates these days. Signing Pedro Alvarez, for whatever it took, was certainly in the best interest of the Pirates, who now sign his paycheck. We shouldn't concern ourselves with the irony in that situation; we should concern ourselves far more with the fact that the best interests of baseball-as seen by the commissioner's office-and the best interests of the individual teams have become two completely different things when it comes to the draft.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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