While money and the slotting system is always the number-one issue when it comes to the draft (see Part One), there are a variety of other draft-related subjects than many officials would like to see addressed in relation to the draft.
Changing The Date
While Major League Baseball instituted the August 15th deadline (or August 17th this year to avoid the weekend) with the best of intentions, It has led to a new kind of problem. Gone is the day of a player not signing until 51 weeks after his selection, but the number of holdouts has increased astronomically, as drafted players know that those who wait the longest get paid the most. Most team officials are willing to give in to the costs of the current system, but it’s the loss of development time that is the most jarring. “With the August 15th deadline, all we’re getting out of kids this year is an instructional league,” said one scouting director. “Every year now, we have more and more kids who can’t have a meaningful summer.”
Moving the date back one month to July 15th seems to be the most reasonable solution here, as it would get kids the all-important adjustment period out of the way, and it wouldn’t change the money aspect in any way. “We’re not accomplishing anything this month, and neither are the players,” said one team official. “It’s just a month of us staring at each other so if we’re going to pay the kid anyway, and least we can get them out there playing.”
There is also some thought about keeping the signing deadline as-is, but moving the draft back one month to the All-Star break. “Let’s face it, we draft before the college season is over, and we’re always scrambling around late to get more looks at kids in the northeast,” said one scouting director. “I’d love to move it back a month, as we’d just get more information.” In order to address the late signings, various insiders had some radical ideas, including extending the seasons of short-season leagues into the end of September. One general manager who discussed taking an advanced circuit like the New York-Penn and Northwest leagues to 110-game seasons that begin in May for players who sign late and aren’t ready for current full-season leagues.
Even agents agree that the current window isn’t necessary. “I’d have no problem with a quicker signing date,” one advisor said. “I had guys sign quickly, and I have guys who are unsigned, and frankly there’s not a lot going on in between.”
Adding The Trade Factor
Surprisingly, nearly all people within baseball supported the idea of trading picks, with more than one person mentioning the excitement factor. “One of the most exciting things during the NFL and NBA drafts is when a trade goes down,” said one scouting director. “I’d love to add that to baseball.”
While everyone has their concerns about the idea, especially with teams just dumping picks, nearly everyone had a solution to that, or just plain didn’t care. “Teams are big boys,” said another official. “If they’re silly enough to give their pick away for nothing, that’s their problem.”
The biggest concern would be where teams would simply sell their picks to increase revenue, and basically turn into modern versions of the Kansas City A’s by selling off their picks every summer. One team simply suggested a system in which picks could be traded, but draft picks could not be included in any deal that includes monetary compensation, with an official saying, “I wouldn’t want to see teams simply trading talent, or potential talent, for money they pocket.”
Agents were also in favor of some kind of trading system, but one noted that while the general feeling would be that teams willing to spend money would end up with the most picks, he also felt like such trades would be rare. “If you’re the Rays and you’re loaded in the farm and gunning for a playoff spot, why not see if you could move that pick to a team out of it that can help you now?” he asked, while also suggesting a limit to the number of picks a team can deal. “You still want to encourage teams to build through the draft,” he added. “People are going to be hesitant to trade high picks, because they can scream until the cows come home about the bonuses, but they’re still a relative bargain, and I don’t think teams will want to deal those bargains away.”
Time For a Combine?
The NFL has Indianapolis, the NBA has Chicago, but baseball has yet to implement any kind of draft combine. The most interesting thing here is that many team officials who spoke on the subject had little interest in watching the players lift weights and run fast, as much as they want to get the know the kid and make their own judgment about his health. “There’s definitely a push to have a medical combine, and it’s long overdue,” said one scouting director. “A place where we can have a player checked out by a doctor and have personal interviews, that’s all I’m asking.”
Another scouting director seconded the thought. “Clubs should have the right, where if I’m going to spend seven-figures on a first-round pick, I have the right to have my doctor claim him physically sound and just get ten minutes to sit down and talk to him,” he said, while adding that there would be an onus on Major League Baseball to assure attendance. “The NFL has created a culture where players want to go to the combine, and we’d have to do the same,” he added.
One agent saw a combine in the future as inevitable, and also thought it would eventually become more like football, with various physical tests as well. “We already have pseudo-combines on a high school level with things like Perfect Game and the Area Code games, so why not?” he asked, adding that he would even be fine with the medical aspect, assuming that the league would address client confidentiality. “If I was a general manager and I’m thinking about taking a big-name arm, I’d certainly want to bring him in on the QT and do an MRI,” he added. “That’s fine as long as the player is insured total privacy.”
Adding an International Flair
The thought of a true international draft has been bandied about for years, but there have been too many hurdles to overcome. One of the main issues involves legality, but both the NBA and NHL have overcome those issues, so baseball certainly could as well. In the past, there were concerns with the imbalance in scouting resources leading to an unfair advantage for teams with more resources, but one small-market club’s general manager said even he doesn’t believe that’s the case anymore, adding, “Look, the days of finding Andruw Jones in Curaçao for $40,000… that just doesn’t happen anymore.”
One agent also went as far as to suggest that the international market is where Major League Baseball would be best served to try out any combine system, which could also help clean up the system. “There’s just so much corruption internationally, maybe a draft would help limit it,” he said, adding, “Maybe that’s where you test out the combines as well. Between a draft and combines you might be able to knock out the buscones.”
So Where Do We End Up?
That’s still the big question. Nobody has a good answer for what the draft will look like, other than the fact that it will certainly be different, and soon. If you really think Bryce Harper left high school two years early based on pure talent, you’re only kidding yourself, as it seems clear to most that the decision was more based on his desire to be selected under the current rule set.
When asked to predict what the draft will look like, three front-office officials answered in a way that fully covers the range of possibilities, which is a wide one.
“I think we’ll have some form of slotting and at least a medical combine.”
“I have no idea, because I don’t really have a good feeling for how far the union will push back on changes, or how much they’ll use it as a carrot to dangle out there in order to get something else they want.”
“With MLB’s current leadership? I don’t expect anything.”
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now
Any changes to the draft will very likely be tied into arbitration concessions. Maybe one less year of arbitration, or a form of restricted free agency.
One idea I've been kicking around would be similar to a salary floor in that teams have a maximum number of players on the 25-man (probably barring injury replacements) that are under team control years.
If a team had to roster at least, say 15 players, who are past the arbitration nexus, salaries will be there for established MLB players, without necessarily driving up salaries for replacement level types. A player past his 6 years may only be worth the MLB minimum, but can still count towards the vet rule. That would also serve to create a new potential market inefficiency for players who had washed out in one way or another.
Thereby players on the DL are still counted as salaried players and teams are free to replace them for the duration of their DL stay with whoever they see fit.
This may also help to prevent full-scale in-season firesales. This rule would not be in play during the off-season, much like the NHL salary cap only beginning with the start of the regular season.
Moving up the signing date a little would probably also help. This would leave more time at the end of summer to get late signees into leagues for more than a month of reps.
Of course, compressing the schedule from both ends would give scouting directors, GMs, and busy agents a lot to do in that window of time.
I also really like the idea of trading picks, but absolutely hate the idea of selling picks. Maybe just put a fairly low cap ($1 million or lower) that can be exchanged in any trade involving a draft pick.
A phsical combine would be almost worthless, though certainly a medical combine would be a fantastic idea. Encourage all the college guys and top HS guys to go. But watching guys take BP or pitchers throw bullpens wouldn't be too exciting, and honestly it would have pretty limited use for front offices. I mean any guy being taken toward the top of a draft can look good in BP. That being batting practice, not Baseball Prospectus.
To be fair, right now most don't show up anyway, but the college players whose teams are still in the CWS bracket have no chance to attend at all and having all the players there would be great to help promote the draft.
The NFL combine seems pretty popular and this would be the first time most fans saw these kids since college football is wildly more popular and televised than college baseball.
Right now, for the most part, fans usually see a few clips of these guys when they're drafted, and only ever see them again if they make the majors.
That says it all.. this can be discussed until the cows come home, but until 2013 (provided it's not a younger version of Bud Selig who takes over), it's just discussion.
As for what will actually happen... I consider MLB to be the worst run professional sports league around, so I would be surprised if they did anything that actually improved the competitive balance of the league, made the pay structure fairer to the players or really did anything that tangibly improved the game. But maybe I'm just pessimistic. :-)
To answer the front office person from Part I that asked what it says about Washington balking about picking Strasburg with the #1 pick, I'd say: That it doesn't know a bargain when it sees one.
My other thought was how can MLB possibly ensure total privacy for a pre-draft MRI? The recent news has been full of old test results for which MLB guaranteed confidentiality.
Yes, the draft restricts a player's options to one team, however, that can help some players. Look at Tony Sanchez and Drew Storen. Both were seen as overdrafts by the Pirates and Nationals, respectively. Yet, the players both ended up with more than they would have had there been no draft.
Teams that are willing to pay now would continue to pay in a draftless world. Accordingly, teams that are unwilling to pay now are going to possibly pay less than they are now. Maybe those low-spending teams will get in on a big prospect every once in a while, but more often than not, they'll sit on the sidelines and look for cheap options.
And say you are John Smith, RHP for Midwest D1 University, who has had a great season in your middle of the pack D1 conference. You think you will get some pro interest in you, but without a draft you have no idea how much, or how much it is worth to you.
A scout approaches you and offers you $50k to sign. How do you have any idea whether this is a fair amount of money? It's not enough to have a legit agent work for you.
Now, on the flipside, if you get drafted in the early 6th round, you would have a much better idea of what you are worth. Sure there are services like baseball america and perfect game, but they are out to serve their own purpose.
Abolishing the draft would only help guys who are first or maybe second round talents... As a whole, teams would screw the guys below this.
Outed players on the PED list say hello.
Draft Date MAKES NO SENSE where it is. Yes, move it.
Primary goal: If I'm gonna lay out big bucks to some kid, I want him playing the summer he signs. Otherwise, I'm buying a guy whose development is already stunted. Baseball is far more developmental than any other professional sport. Athlete can't make progress sitting around waiting on his agent to conclude it's safe to sign. (P.S., the Agent will never tell him he'd be better off if he had signed right away, as 90% of the picks would be.)
My only concern with trading picks: that The Mother of All Anti-Trust lawsuits is someday coming down the pike to bust the draft (which would be a serious setback for the game), and turning the drsaft into any more of a flesh market will look cosmetically very bad to a Federal judge. Oh well