Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports that one of the top topics of conversation during the Owner and General Manager meetings were potential changes to the draft. Most notably, they discussed creating a slot-bonus signing system for draft picks, as well as creating a rule where teams can trade draft picks.
There appears to be growing sentiment to bring baseball in line with other professional sports and allow the trading of draft picks. In addition, the owners intend to press hard for a bonus slotting system in the draft. As one MLB official noted: “Look at a team like Tampa Bay. They’re going to have something like seven picks in the first two rounds next year, but how are they going to sign them? By allowing the trading of draft picks you put additional value on them.”
Currently Major League Baseball teams can not trade draft picks. This rule was established to help keep a balance of power in the league. Without a salary cap, there is little the owners can do to ensure competitive equality at the Major League level, so as a result, they ensure that losing teams have the undeniable advantage at the minor league level. These rules were created with the hope that losers today could build themselves into winners tomorrow, just as the Tampa Bay Rays have.
This reward system is great for teams that are good at evaluating talent, however as the Nationals have seen first hand that while beneficial it can be extremely costly. The Nats have had the first two picks in the MLB draft the past two years and while they have gained two amazing talents, they’ve certainly paid for it. Given that, would it have been better for the Nationals to have an option to save some money and trade that draft pick?
I don’t think it would. Could you imagine the unequalable power the Yankees would amass if they had the ability last summer to trade for Bryce Harper? Or Stephen Strasburg the summer before that? While we can say that the Nationals never would have let that opportunity pass, allowing the trading of draft picks would change the tenor of negotiations leading up to the draftee signing deadline.
If player X knows that the New York Yankees want to trade for the first overall pick to have the rights to him, and he knows that the New York Yankees will give him $40 million where the Washington Nationals will only give him $15, what is to stop Scott Boras or any other agent/player combo to demand outrageous contracts to get on to the team they want? Draft picks are so valuable in Major League Baseball that if top market teams were given the opportunity, they would dominate the draft as they currently do free-agency. Allowing the big boys to stick their hands into the one realm where the small market teams have the advantage, would crush any remaining equality there is left in this game.
That being said, the owners are right that there needs to be a restructuring of our draft system. Players have the ability to demand too much money, and have the freedom to hold out and come back the next year with really little penalty. The Nationals spent just under $12 million in 2010 on draft picks, the highest in Major League Baseball. To put that in comparison, that is more money than either Ryan Zimmerman or Jayson Werth will make in 2011.