Hard-slotting, appeasing the NCAA, and a possible golden age for college baseball.
Last week, I kicked off this series by laying out the facts about the looming CBA negotiations and how the draft could be affected. When speaking with executives and agents, it quickly becomes obvious that the sides have different assumptions about what the draft should accomplish. There are clear-cut party lines where agents and executives will disagree, just like some small- and large-market clubs are sure to differ.
An AL executive put some of these assumptions in perspective: "The fewer restrictions there are for the club to get the player they want, the better. Trading picks moves us closer to that. If [Stephen] Strasburg isn't the best guy for the Nationals, they can trade down and get value as opposed to passing, getting nothing in return and being killed in the media." This sounds like what I talked about last week; if we assume hard-slotting is in place, teams like trading picks because it allows "smart teams to be smart" and leverage their valuations and strategies.
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With the CBA due to run out after the 2011 season, the industry is considering reforms of the ways amateur talent gets brought into the game.
When looking back at the economics of signing July 2nd talent, the amateur draft kept coming up. The draft indirectly ties to the Latin American market in a number of ways, and this relationship could be changing due to the other topic that kept coming up: the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires in December of 2011. The most talked-about reforms-mandated slots in the draft and a worldwide draft-have been kicked around in the past, but have gained more support in recent years. Covering amateur baseball is about looking forward, so I'll spend the next few articles breaking down the issues that both sides will be considering when they come to the table.
The signing windows on Latin teen talents gets thrown open, but who's going to land where?
While tradition would say that it's technically ridiculous to post July 2nd signing-related notes and predictions until after the signing period has opened, this year is playing out uniquely. It appears that many players will be waiting a day or two later to agree to contracts, with some waiting a week or two, for various reasons I'll cover below. If anything, July 2nd appears to be the day that all the done deals that have been reported for weeks will be official, along with a couple of surprises, but it will not be the cavalcade of information you might expect. On top of that, it's notoriously difficult to even get lists of who signed with each club on July 2nd; a few teams will have press releases, a few don't mind leaking a list, but the vast majority don't want the information out there for some reason.
I say all this to temper your enthusiasm for July 2nd day-of coverage. There will be lists and names and bonuses and some breaking news, but not quite as much as you may be expecting. The market was slow to develop this year, and a number of clubs and agents are unsure of how money will be spent and just need a few days to hammer things out, along with some ongoing age-related investigations that need to conclude (including that of Miguel Sano). What's the reason for the later decisions by clubs and agents? This is the biggest market of active teams July 2nd has ever seen, along with a recession that has messed with club's budgets and changed expectations on the fly. You also can't ignore the heightened awareness of age falsification, with many players being suspended even recently. One insider described the situation by noting, "A few guys from last year's class were outed as being older in the last few weeks and now these teams are thinking twice about walking down the aisle with this year's crop unless they're absolutely certain of the age."
Some of what the mill cranks out proves to be true, but other stuff not so much as we near the July 2 signing window.
The Video Notebook
Now that I've presented 25 scouting reports for July 2nd prospects (here and here) along with videos of the top players (all of them which you'll find here), you may be wondering what I have to left write about, with all of the crucial information already written and still 10 more days until players can sign. First, the ranking of players is always changing, though I'm not going to edit that list just yet. If there's one thing I can tell you about this market, it's that something is always happening. Every call I make not only yields solid information and teaches me something new, but there's at least one off-the-wall item mentioned as well. Maybe it's a function of a maturing market where everyone isn't on the same page yet, or perhaps there's just more to be made from misinformation in a free market. Probably both, and some other factors, but rest assured, I have more than enough material. The trick is to figure out what is most legitimate, and of that, what is most important. I've been working the phones as the signing period nears, so here is your information dump, notebook-style.
Rounding out a list of the top 20 international talents, with video and reports straight from south of the border.
I've got a lot of ground to cover today, so we'll skip any long-winded introductions and just get right into the good stuff. As with last week's piece, non-subscribers who would like to take a look at the videos embedded below can check out my Vimeo page.
While I was in the Dominican last month, the biggest showcase of the year featured various top July 2nd prospects facing off against the Canadian junior national team. Left-hander Jake Eliopoulos, the top Canadian prospect in tomorrow's draft, toed the rubber for three innings. Here's a bonus video and scouting report on him, as you'll want to know something about him, as he should be drafted tomorrow:
Straight from one man's scouting mission to the island, video, scouting reports, and rumors from the Dominican.
I'm back from the Dominican and I come bearing gifts: full scouting reports, on-the-ground buzz, first-hand accounts of top prospects, and the videos to prove it. I've got way more than I can fit in one article, but I'll try to cram as much as I can into this space. For non-subscribers who can't read much further, the embedded videos below can all be found here.
Before we jump into things, I wanted to revisit a topic that I covered last week. Teams seem to be even more open to a give-and-take between their draft and international budgets when it comes to a weak draft class, a struggling economy, and increasing bonuses being paid out in Latin America. One club official noted that it has always been common for teams that didn't plan to spend their entire draft budget to roll the excess into their international budget once they know what players they selected. It has also been circulating that a few teams may be trying to dump big-league salaries to free up more money for international purposes, with the most frequently mentioned team being San Diego, and their most mentioned contract being Jake Peavy's. The fact that Peavy blocked a trade to the White Sox recently didn't do much to quell this talk.
Scoring a deal with a particular prospect from south of the border involves a complicated dance between organizations, agents, and buscones.
When I talk to people about the July 2nd market, after understanding the basics (conveniently covered last week), they want to know how a deal is made. Part of this is due to the human fascination with the unknown, particularly when there's been a long buildup and some handicapping involved, as in a trade deadline or draft in any sport. The other part is some combination of fascination with celebrities (executives, agents, and players), negotiations with millions of dollars at stake, and curiosity about how your favorite team does business.
I break it down this way because, at its core, a trade deadline, draft, or opening of a free-agent market doesn't seem intrinsically interesting. If you really look at it, these events garner more interest than the majority of games, despite wins and losses from these games being the currency by which those three events are judged. If one frames July 2nd this way, we're debating about high school sophomore-aged kids from foreign countries who are long shots of ever being a big-leaguer of consequence. At this point, I start wondering why I'm even writing about it; then I realize that these events just are that interesting, people want to read about them, and we may never completely understand why, but then some of the best things in life are inexplicably appealing. So, without further psychoanalysis, let's jump into the art of the deal.
With the signing window for talent about to open, a primer on how things work south of the border.
There's a disease of "more" in baseball prospect coverage, and it has seeped all the way down to the growing interest in the Latin American market of 16-year-old amateurs. While this might seem borderline creepy and of dubious importance, there are many layers to this emerging foreign market. Before I start into a full sprint with scouting reports, rumors, and rankings of talent from south of the border, I want to take a page out of Kevin Goldstein's playbook, when he kicked off his prospect coverage here at BP with a series on scouting theory and lingo by catching everyone up on how business is done in Latin America.