Bud Selig….Draft Slotting Is Bad For Baseball.
By John Verburg
Reportedly the owners, or at least some of them, are trying to get a hard cap on draft picks put into the new collective bargaining agreement. This has been a rumor for some time, as Commissioner Bud Selig has intimated that he is in favor of it. As it stands now, he tries to strong arm teams into following his “suggested” slot money for draft picks by holding things over owners heads, like hosting an All-Star game, or his office not approving contracts until the last minute. Who knew the baseball Commissioner could be so passive-aggressive?
Well, now the cat is out of the bag as Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is reporting, hopefully this won’t be something that holds the new CBA from getting taken care of in quick order.
My main question is, how is a hard cap for the draft good for baseball?
The simple answer is it’s not. Now, I don’t claim to know all the intricacies involved in the financial dealings of major league baseball clubs. But what I do know is that hard slotting the draft is going to affect the ability of small market clubs to compete, and ultimately the competitive balance of baseball. Why the commissioner and the owners can’t see that, I am not sure. Or maybe they can. I would venture to guess that the owner of the Rays, Padres and Indians for instance would have to be against this. How about teams like the Nationals that may have the financial resources, but still use the draft as a means of getting better, because it’s hard to get free agents to go there?
All a hard cap will do in baseball is benefit the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and the Angels even more. Teams with tremendous financial resources can drop a ton on free agents, and won’t have to worry about teams like the Royals over paying for talent in the draft. I’m not even sure the Rays would exist if they couldn’t work the draft system to their advantage like they did this past season and prior to 2011. The Tigers themselves would never have been able to draft Rick Porcello and Nick Castellanos if it wasn’t for being able to go way over slot.
That is another drawback of hard slotting. The players. The talent pool of the draft depends on both college and high school players. The numbers of players entering the draft from high school is likely to decrease significantly if they are limited by the amount of money they can make. What this does is push them to college where the player hopes they can improve their value, which isn’t always the case. Not a bad thing in theory, a kid going to college, but it goes against the American way. If a kid coming out of high school is able to get 2-3 million dollars for his talent, he should have the right, especially for pitchers. Why would they want to blow their arm out in college before cashing in? Have any of you seen how college coaches treat their players arms at top schools?
So, if it isn’t good for the players, and it isn’t good for the competitive balance of the league, why are some of the owners and Bud Selig pushing for it?
The almighty dollar of course.
You see, with the current system in place, the amateur draft is essentially a competition. The competition increases the value of the player and drives the price up for the owners when discussing picking the player. Players essentially are telling scouts, x amount of dollars is what it is going to take to keep me from going to college, and owners of course don’t like it. Especially since after the draft, the player could change their demands and force owners hands. The rate of attrition for draft picks in baseball is enormous, so I understand the hesitation in wanting to pay amateurs the kind of money they are getting. The value of spending 3 million on a guy that becomes a star however, is much more valuable than buying an aging veteran for 3 years in free agency.
This value is why small market clubs like the Royals get aggressive in the draft. Why is Bud Selig allowed to push this on small market teams like this that choose to build their clubs this way?
In fairness, I should mention another point behind why some owners may want hard slotting. It’s largely due to not wanting to pay big bonuses, but it also has to due with teams being able to sign their picks. The theory is if a player knows ahead of time what they are going to get, the likelihood they don’t sign will be less and teams will be able to pick the best player available. For instance, 20 some teams won’t pass on Rick Porcello worried about his demands because there is no real negotiation going on.
My counter argument to that would be, slotting doesn’t mean that a player is going to sign, especially if it is a high schooler or college junior. In fact, it might mean quite the opposite. It might cause players to reject going to the team that selected them, or have them telling teams, “don’t select me, I won’t sign with you.” They could just enter the draft again the following year, hoping to find a more suitable team to themselves. There would have to be safeguards put in to protect against this, but I have no idea how you could do that.
Money is the equalizer here. Pittsburgh can convince Josh Bell to play for them by dropping a ton of money in his lap. If they had picked him first overall with a hard cap of 1.5 million dollars. He goes to college.
My worry is that the current players will budge. While players unions don’t like a cap of any sort, even on future players that aren’t a part of the union yet, concessions for current players could be made by the owners to satisfy the players union. Simply put, they could expand the rosters by one player to get another union member paid, or they could raise the minimum salary a little bit. Either way, if it is financially beneficial for the owners to make a concession to current players that costs less than the salaries of draft picks, it could get done.
Obviously, a hard cap is something I don’t want to see. Teams like the Tampa Rays are good for baseball, and while they can still be successful using their philosophy by scouting better than others, it will take away any advantage they could gain by going over slot. The Royals, Nats, Pirates, and Blue Jays are teams that are entirely focused on building teams through the draft, and their progress could be damaged immensely. These teams can’t spend like the haves of baseball can. The effect won’t necessarily be that they are wiped out, but rather have the effect of a person that is constantly getting their leg broken. They will operate with a limp.
Bud Selig has done some good things, and well, some not so good things as Commissioner. They are also talking about adding a playoff team. That could keep interest in more cities for longer. Good idea, but this draft slotting one, Selig should stay away from.