Another year, another draft signing deadline, and more deals than ever not getting announced until the final hours, and in the end, more money than ever being spent on bonuses. There are no real shocks here, no big surprises, as in the end, San Diego selection Karsten Whitson was the only first-round pick not to come to terms for purely monetary purposes.
So now we prepare for next year's draft, the final one under the current collective bargaining agreement. Expect even more holdouts next August and, therefore, even more spending. But what about 2012? Here are some modest proposals, but for now, I'll stay away from the word 'fix.'
Eliminate the concept of slots, be they recommended, or hard
The current slot system is a joke, as they are merely recommended by Major League Baseball, with no true means of enforcement, other than their ability to fine a team if they do not go through the over-slot process, which involves telling MLB about your intention to go above the slot and then getting yelled at in return. In addition, a true hard-slot system that would restrict what teams could spend with every pick would be flat-out bad for baseball in every way. The argument here is not one of rich vs. poor or fairness, but a much larger for-the-good-of-the-game one. Hard slots mean that Major League Baseball has decided to steer players away from the game, as without the ability to exceed even recommended slots, a large number, if not a majority of, high school players selected after the first two or three rounds would elect to go to college or, even worse, attend college and pursue another sport. The minor leagues would quickly be stripped of talent, and MLB would be cutting off its nose to spite its face. It's time to let the market rule here, and let teams be treated like adults who can make their own decisions about what players are, or are not, worth. The bigger question, of course, is why does MLB put so much effort into the draft, when even with their inflation, the overwhelming number of bonuses amount to less than what most teams pay for the 11th man on their pitching staff?
Move up the deadline, and no more holding back announcements
When first instituted, the August 15 signing deadline was designed to end the year-long holdouts that were becoming disturbingly more common. A sound goal to be sure, but at the same time, they've created a monster that sees more players waiting until the deadline each year as history tells them that those who wait are those who get the most money. Teams and players simply don't need two months to work out a deal; often they only need two days. Let's get the players off their couches with a PlayStation controller in their hands and onto the fields. A July 15 deadline provides plenty of time to get a deal done while also allowing players to get between 30 and 40 professional games under their belt, as opposed to simply participating in fall instructional league and waiting seven months for an official debut. Another contributing factor that prevents players from hitting the field is MLB's misguided policy of withholding approval of above-slot deals until the last possible moment under the belief that such announcements would simply drive up bonuses. There is absolutely no evidence to support that belief, as bonuses and total spending rises at the same rate, so it's time to end the charade. When a player and a team have a deal done, regardless of money, it's in the best interest of everyone to get him playing.
Allow the trading of draft picks
I shared some of these theories with a baseball insider, and his first reaction was, “How will this keep bonuses down?” My answer: it won't. That's not my goal here, and as we've already seen, MLB's attempts to achieve less spending have created more problems than solutions, while stricter measures have the potential to be damaging to the game itself. That said, certainly there will be teams that don't want to match the spending ways of others. To counter that, it's time to allow for the trading of picks just like any other team asset. If a non-spending team has the third pick in the draft and doesn't want to pay the prevailing rate, nothing should prevent that team from marketing that pick in return for existing, more proven commodities. Such a system would help balance the distribution of talent in its own way.
Many believe that the draft will, for the first time, no longer be the red-headed stepchild in collective bargaining, and many major changes are being discussed in order to help curb spending. As one big-league executive said to me last year, “Every time Major League Baseball tries to 'fix' the draft, they just create more problems.” So, in reality, the best way to fix the draft just might be to stop trying to fix the draft.
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Why not bring back the reserve clause while we're at it?
this is the #1 issue for the players union.
Of course, this would affect salaries if the draft pick compensation continues, but that is a different battle.
End the draft.
Free the players.
Let the free market rule.
A few weeks ago I had an (unsuccessful) interview at Google. When they do offer someone a job, they (or any other company) offer a contract paying X amount working in group Y. If group Z wants an employee, they are not going to try to outbid group Y. The prospective employee cannot go around to all the groups in order to find a higher bidder.
If you think of the MLB as one entity, then players should only expect to be paid more than their worth to any non-MLB company. The only players with any real bargaining power are the multi sport athletes. I do think it is very remarkable that people with such specialized skills, skills that are only useful to a very small number of organizations (and only 1 organization in the USA) can demand so much from their employer.
I'm not buying this at face value. Where is the evidence that hard-slotting the draft would hurt product on the field? The NFL moved to a 'hard' slot-based draft system without anyone suggesting that the product on the field suffered. And draft position is much more closely tied to success in the NFL than in MLB.
Even if I buy the assertion that a hard-slot system will drive players away from MLB, I can't believe it would be a 'majority' of high schoolers drafted after the first couple of rounds. You have to consider:
1. How many players that get drafted have the potential to play another sport professionally? (A sizable minority, but certainly not a majority.)
2. Of that set, how many would actually give up a baseball career for another sport based on the hard slot figure?
3. What would be the hard slot figures? (Perhaps I will buy KGs assertion if he is assuming the owners would set absurdly low hard slot bonuses. But remember, this would be negotiated so I assume the bonuses would be reasonable.)
I'm guessing the number of players who fit criteria #1 AND #2 above, given a reasonable figure for #3 is a handful AT MOST every year. Certainly not enough to 'strip' the minor leagues of talent. I just can't see a 'majority' of the mid-late round high school picks deferring the opportunity to get paid to play over a couple of thousand dollars. It's not like the bonuses after the first few rounds are significant anyway.
Of course, I'm willing to be convinced otherwise. Show me the evidence.
While there are no sure things, a $500k bonus isn't enough to convince a kid to give up college and a chance at NFL millions, while not relinquishing a chance to play baseball in the future.
Put another way, perhaps the top 10-20 high school guys will keep on playing baseball (though even this isn't assured, as if you think you're going to be drafted in the NBA or NFL, you'll get a lot more money from them), but nobody else will. If you're a third round pick and an MLB team can only offer you $200k, that's not a strong enough incentive to give up an NCAA scholarship and a chance at better money elsewhere.
NFL 4th round picks are getting about $300k-$400k bonuses...not several million. And remember that the contracts are not guaranteed. I can't see a genuine MLB prospect giving up a couple of hundred thousand in an MLB bonus for the chance to make a little more 3 years later in the NFL.
The point the author is trying to make is that baseball draft contracts are already well below the averages of other sports, making a hard slot system would only increase the seperation.
Off the top of my head, Russell Wilson, Kyle Parker, and Zach Lee are three players in this year's draft that were playing football or had football offers. Zach Lee is probably the best example, if there was hard slotting then the dodgers wouldn't have been able to offer him 5 million and he probably would have gone to LSU.
If you want examples of active players that could have ditched the MLB for football, just look at Arodd and Mauer.
You may say, so what, those two guys didn't pan out. Well, what if MLB missed out on the next Dave Winfield? Kenny Lofton? Tom Glavine? Jason Heyward, who would make a kick-ass tight end? Maybe you are right that a hard-slotting system would only push a handful of athletes to other sports, but it would be the most gifted athletes.
The yankees wouldn't shell out $50 mill for bryce harper, instead they'd buy the half the first round, every year.
Baseball had an open market for free agents before 1965. Look at the home grown talent that the Cardinals and Yankees had before the MLB Draft and tell me how well the open market worked.
They also drafted Cito Culver in the first round of the draft this year despite the fact that several "better" talents (by industry consensus) were still available with higher price tags.
My problem with open market is it'll favor the big market teams and they'll get all the top prospects.
My problem with slotting is that u'll lose top athletes to other sports, especially since these athletes can go back to school if they want.
I like the current system, with the adjustments the author proposed, though I think rookie bonuses should be added to a team's payroll to determine their luxury tax amount.
Super. You name 2 examples in the last 15 years. Neither recent.
"How many players that get drafted have the potential to play another sport professionally? (A sizable minority, but certainly not a majority.)"
This is more accurate, except that it's a very UNsizeable minority. Jordan thought he was a baseball prospect. Yeah, right.
A Bo or Deion comes around maybe once a decade. Neither of whom, even in their cases, amounted to all that much of a baseball player.
Look at what happened to boxing. A lot of the top athletes are now going into football or other sports and boxing is disappearing.
Carl Crawford, Matt Holliday, Grady Sizemore, Adam Dunn, Mark DeRosa, Jeff Samardzija, and both Upton Brothers.
That's not believable.
The only guys MLB would lose are:
1. The players who are mediocre baseball prospects but significantly better prospects in the other sports who would otherwise get paid overslot bonuses to buy them out of a college commitment to the other sport.
2. Dual sport college stars (Samardzija types) who wouldn't have to wait for their payday in the non-MLB sport and could no longer be bought out of their interest in the other sport.
How many guys in the most recent draft had to be given significant overslot money in order to keep them from playing football/basketball in college? I really can't believe it is more than a handful.
Hines Ward 1994
Brian Brohm 2004
Matt Cassel 2004
Pat White 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009
Isaiah Stanback 2006
Dennis Dixon 2007
Antwaan Randle-El Chicago Cubs 1997
Marques Tuiasosopo Minnesota Twins 1997
Vernand Morency Colorado Rockies 1998
Chad Hutchinson St. Louis Cardinals 1998
Drew Henson New York Yankees 1998
Michael Vick Colorado Rockies 2000
Ronnie Brown Seattle Mariners 2000
Roydell Williams Cincinnati Reds 2000
Mewelde Moore San Diego Padres 2000
Cedric Benson Los Angeles Dodgers 2001
Corey Dillon, Padres 1993
A free market really, really benefits those with the capital, those with money. Fine, if money floats your boat.
Oh, and a free market is very, very economically efficient. In case anyone thinks I'm a commie.
Makes sense to me.
Here's an idea to mitigate the craziness of last-minute signings that I haven't seen proposed; it's undoubtedly got warts, but rather than bash the idea, look for a way to remove the warts and make it look better. Teams are free to exceed slots by as much as they want to, and can announce signings whenever they occur, BUT signing a guy for grossly over slot creates a penalty in the FOLLOWING year's draft. If the aggregate of the contracts for, say, the first ten rounds exceeds the sum of the recommended slots by 50% or more, the team's position in the next year's draft drops by one notch. If it exceeds recommendations by a factor of two or more, the position drops by two notches. Something like that -- as I say, this is a pure straw man and undoubtedly could use refinement.
How many of those 'somethings' are on your lists? I'd predict darn close to zero. Players choose whatever sport they're best at. Almost none are top prospects at both. Unless you very, very creatively redesign 'top'.
That said, allowing teams to allocate their own capital and take risks should be the goal. Sure, the big market teams will spend more on amateur talent, but the smaller market teams will find other market inefficiencies to "exploit" if they are well-run. Be it in additional scouting where the marginal dollar may go further, new int'l talent markets, etc.
Baseball isn't a perfect information world. There are too many potential signees for every team to know everything about every player. Forcing teams to pay full market value for players - domestic amateurs, international amateurs, FAs, etc - will lessen the advantage of large market teams as they do not have an endless supply of capital (despite how that seems to be an assumption of many here).
The only way I see a free market working is to end or limit the six years of control a team has over a young player tosimultaneoudly encourage talent to eave an organization as fast as it comes is as well as lowering payroll by increasing the supply of talented young players across the league.
But even within the league, all things are not equal, nor should they be. There should be good franchises and bad franchises, winners and losers. All the league really cares about is if there's enough competition where any team can theoretically win even if most teams have little chance.
Or perhaps we should be fair and base which two teams face off in the World Series by playing spin-the-bottle twice?
The point I'm trying to make is that the other teams could have spent as much money as the Yankees and never did. If they had, they could also be generating similar high levels of revenue to what the Yankees get.
I'm not trying to engage in a value argument. I like the current revenue system, for the most part. But, your last paragraph is absurd and completely ignores the market size dynamics that are responsible for a significant portion of the revenue and spending differences between different organizations.
In fact, the Royals outdrew the Yankees in attendance in 1982, 1986, and 1989-1992. Yes I realize attendance is not the same thing as revenue, but it does show some indication of popularity, interest, and market size which could have been tapped. What if the Royals had started up their own version of WGN/TBS/YES Network to capitalize on that potential revenue?
Why don't the Royals generate as much revenue as the Yankees? It comes down to branding, particularly global branding in an age of television and internet marketing and revenue. When you have little kids in Japan buying Yankees caps instead of Royals caps, you have a successful brand that generates revenue even if that child never ever goes to a Yankees game. Perhaps some of that is due to the Yankees mystique and "legends" such as Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. But some of that is because the Yankees took steps to sustain and grow that image.
Another example is the Chicago Cubs, who haven't performed as well as the Royals have over the last 40 years in terms of attendance yet still manage to sell out their road games (and fan apparel) because Cubs fans are everywhere thanks to WGN and the Chicago Tribune's distribution.
Look at the Mets who play in the same city as the Yankees so in theory, have access to the same revenue streams as you suggest the Yankees do, yet haven't been as successful as the Phillies and Braves who play in smaller cities.
The same kind of market size inequalities were also a common cry coming out of Boston until this decade, who coined the Yankees as the "Evil Empire". I don't think they complain as much these days and are still able to compete with the Yankees... and they still generate a lot of revenue too.
Kevin, maybe you could do an article about how the draft has affected Puerto Rico. When did it hit? What great PR'cans came before and after it?
The NFL was hardly integrated in the 1940's. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_players_in_American_professional_football
And baseball was hardly lucrative in the 1940's, especially for black players. I don't think I need to link to a reference to support that statement.
I'd really love a full length article examining (not conjecturing) how much talent, if any, MLB would lose if it went to a hard-slot system. Maybe someone could explain how the draft has impacted talent coming out of Puerto Rico. I would love to see causation, not just correlation.
I am not in favor of a hard slotting system. There are MANY good reasons why MLB should not implement such a system. I just don't think this is one of them and it is really watering down the argument.
I've posted enough I guess. Don't want to keep banging this drum.
I think by using the word "nowadays", he's saying if baseball wasn't integrated these days, that African-Americans would have even less incentive to play baseball today. Even then, though baseball is integrated today, top African American athletes often go to other sports instead of baseball (though that also happens with Caucasians and other ethnicities as well).
This will help scouts tons
The small teams have to have some even playing field or advantage somewhere or they become very uninteresting very quickly unless they get lucky on some small signings.
The main issue I see here is why anyone would bring this up in the first place. The MLBPA wouldn't want this because it drives the total pool of money available for current members down, and MLB wouldn't want this because it hurts competitive balance. If the draft changes at all during the bargaining agreement I'll be shocked.
I am fully on board with the fears of hard slotting driving talent away from the game and would be pretty frustrated with ownership if they make such a short-sighted move.
Let me put it this way: would you think it fair if a billionaire told you to take a cut in your salary because it would make selling insurance more entertaining? If not, perhaps you can understand why parents of potential players might look at appeals to parity at the expense of their child's future as being more than a little exploitative.