Time to End the Draft System?

» 19 July 2009 » In international baseball »

This is mostly about the MLB draft,  but applies to the NPB draft to some extent as well.

Consider the following events:

  • In 2001, the Minnesota Twins draft the relatively unknown Joe Mauer over Mark Prior, 2001’s Stephen Strasburg, for a combination of baseball and signability reasons. This turned out to the be right choice.
  • 2005, Luke Hochevar refuses to sign with the LA Dodgers after a series of blunders. The following year, Hochevar is drafted first overall by the Royals. This too is seen as a signability move.
  • In 2006, the Chicago Cubs sign Jeff Samardzjia for first-round money despite having drafted him in the fifth round.
  • In July 2008, the Oakland A’s signed Michel Ynoa to a $4m+ deal, which would have put him in the top ten largest bonuses had he been drafted. The A’s gave their first round draft pick, Jemile Weeks, a $1.9m bonus.
  • In November 2008, Junichi Tazawa avoids his country’s draft and signs with the Boston Red Sox for $3m. The most he could have gotten from the NPB draft would have been a $1m bonus and $150k salary. In retaliation,  NPB brass installs an exile rule. In theory American-born players could take the opposite route.
  • in July 2009, the Twins shell out $800k to sign 16 year-old German prospect Max Kepler.
  • Aside from those specific examples, there are obviously hundreds of international prospects who have signed with the MLB team of their choice, and a rather smaller number of international free agents who have signed with teams in Japan. Meanwhile, amateur players who are educated in the US or Japan are bound to the draft entry rules of their respective domestic leagues.

The MLB draft was established in the sixties with the intent of more evenly distributing the available amateur talent among the MLB teams. I think it basically works, though it’s been proven that teams, players, and agents can game it a bit when they want to. It’s also important to remember that the draft was established in a time when there was far less international talent in major league baseball than there is today. Nearly 30% of the players at the MLB level were born outside the US, and nearly half of minor leaguers were as well. This year we’ve seen a lot more hype around the international signing period as well. It doesn’t quite match the draft but it’s gaining ground, and the signings of Tazawa and Kepler indicate a diversification of the talent pool.

So we have a system that’s moderately regulated for domestic players, and completely unregulated for international players. Should national players not have the same rights to choose their employers as international players?

What I’d propose is a regulated amateur free agent system, in which the draft is discarded entirely. Every amateur player who meets the entry criteria (age, education, whatever) would be allowed to negotiate and sign with any team, regardless of national origin. The single regulation I’d put in place would be a spending cap and a spending floor, based on league revenues. This would be to keep the Yankees from outspending everyone, and the Marlins from going cheap. There could also be a maximum and minimum number of players signed, to keep teams from giving their entire budget to one player. Beyond that, teams would be free to compete with each other on the basis being well-run operations. Essentially, the system would give the players the freedom to choose where they work and the teams the freedom to allocate their budgets as they see fit, while taking money out of the equation to a certain extent.


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  1. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 8:55 pm Permalink

    The cap part would be infested with loop holes. For one thing, how do you calculate the money teams invest in facilities in Latin American countries? Since Puerto Rico came under the draft, the quality of its players has been down.

    Also, this would be kind of the opposite of the “trend.” The NPB was first full of loop holes, so-called “uragame”, “room-and-board-money” or whatever you call it, and then enforced the cap on signing bonuses. The NBA draft went international and then upped the minimum age to draft entry.

    Just my first thought.

  2. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 9:03 pm Permalink

    The cap part would be infested with loop holes. For one thing, how do you calculate the money teams invest in facilities in Latin American countries? Since Puerto Rico came under the draft, the quality of its players has been down.

    There’s no reason there can’t be a regulatory body for MLB operations overseas. And also, do players who are not under contract with MLB teams play at affiliated academies? I have no idea on that one.

    I think limiting incentive money would be harder, unless they could agree to a standardized incentive framework.

    Also, this would be kind of the opposite of the “trend.” The NPB was first full of loop holes, so-called “uragame”, “room-and-board-money” or whatever you call it, and then enforced the cap on signing bonuses. The NBA draft went international and then upped the minimum age to draft entry.

    That would be the other way — to force any player wishing to enter the league to go through the draft. The NHL does this as well.

  3. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 9:23 pm Permalink

    There’s no reason there can’t be a regulatory body for MLB operations overseas.
    How much regulatory power would this have overseas? How would this fit with local amateur governing bodies? For example, the NCAA puts severe bans on players who come to contact with professional organizations.

    I don’t know. I generally just don’t like inter-territorial-governing things.

  4. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 9:38 pm Permalink

    Yeah, fair questions. Keep in mind that there is a need for this anyway, with bonus skimming issues we saw last year.

  5. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 9:44 pm Permalink

    I’m kind of on the fence on this topic. Instead of making North American players sign with any club of their choice and completely get rid of the MLB Draft, why can’t the MLB keep the draft, but at the same time, reach some sort of mutual agreement with main countries overseas that produce baseball talent (Ex. Dominican and Venezuela) to put them in the MLB draft? Quite a few organizations have created scouting bases and camps already in these particular areas.

  6. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 10:19 pm Permalink

    to put them in the MLB draft?

    Those facilities would go to waste if they invest money only to see players sign with other clubs a la Puerto Rico.

  7. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 10:39 pm Permalink

    Yes, but don’t team scouts put lots of resources into scouting North American players almost all year?

  8. Patrick
    19/07/2009 at 11:06 pm Permalink

    I am not a head of baseball operation, but I think sending scouts are much cheaper than building facilities.

    Anyway, what does it achieve to subject Dominicans and Venezuelans to a draft? How can it be more beneficial to Dominica and Venezuela than it is now? Are you sure that you are not regarding them as sweatshop workers?

    On a more technical note, we came to know that it’s easy to fake identities in those areas. Or they might not have to fake them. The current definition of “country of residence” for purposes of draft is vague, which Boras is currently trying to exploit for Strasburg.

  9. Patrick
    20/07/2009 at 8:48 am Permalink

    IBAF would have to become more powerful than MLB or NPB (or any other pro organization) which seems unlikely, for this to come true. Currently, MLB, NPB and other pro leagues are fighting each other about arbitrary rules that they set on their own.

  10. Patrick
    20/07/2009 at 9:38 am Permalink

    I don’t see how this would improve the equal distribution of talent throughout the 30 teams.

    If you had what is basically a free-for-all, the best talent would still gravitate toward the best or richest teams (with promises of future dividends the payoff). That’s not right.

    Seems to me the Rays are a team that has greatly benefited from the current system, being guaranteed a top pick almost every year. Had there been a free-for-all, then the quality of the prospects available to them might have gone down. And with it their ability to compete as well as they have the last two years.

    The system is basically fine as it is. Maybe there should be some tweaks with slotting, but otherwise it it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  11. Patrick
    Ben Fink
    20/07/2009 at 10:00 am Permalink

    Why not just say any player between the ages of something and something who enters the league must go through the draft, you don’t need an agreement with a country.
    No draft would fail at equalizing anything, for example, Strasburg would never be on a team like the Nats (or a chance to be).

  12. Patrick
    Doom Squad
    20/07/2009 at 10:29 am Permalink

    The origin of the draft was to spear the talent and avoid one or two teams from collecting the top talent available and I believe it should remain like that I would even for further and establish a limit in the bonus any player receive by rule a cap in the bonus lets say 5.0 MM as a cap to the first overall , that is fear considering MLB proven players have to play for 3 years in the MLB before even thinking about making 2 or 3 MM in arbitration, from among the first rounders let´s say before 2003 how many are in the big leagues? How many have fulfilled their projections? This way the talent available may not be passed due to “signability issues” many first overall picks never make it to the majors, many more never establish themselves as projected, MLB is the most difficult major sport to evaluate talent and make projections for, worst teams should not be under circumstances prevented in any forms to pick top talent in order to maintain the competitive balance in MLB.
    On the international free agents basically they go to the highest bidder not the team they want to play for, also they don´t play for any affiliate team before they get signed, they play in programs from mostly ex players , ex scouts, “buscones” baseball instructors that forms “academies” (whom usually take 30 to 40 % of the signing bonuses) they only focus on the basics running 60 yards, throwing, batting practice and fielding. If you have an international draft international players will slowly disappear from the majors. If MLB wants to fix something put a cap in all players draftee or not and work with all these “academies” and programs and organized amateur leagues,universities, with tournaments where players are selecte by age range, so that the scouts can actually see the kids playing on the field and host a sort of a local draft in each country in which the worst teams in the MLB standing choose first from among all the local player. One thing that leads to international players lie about their ages is that if do not sign at age 16 , 99% of the cases you will not sign ever unless an scout is doing you a “favor”, this is unfair US athletes sing at older ages 18 – 22 years old ranges, MLB needs to work with local governments also because these kids leave everything to be able to sign at age 16 and if they don´t ,simply they have no education, no future and stay empty handed. They need to organize a lot in international players market.

  13. Patrick
    20/07/2009 at 11:49 am Permalink

    Very interesting concept. I agree that the distribution of amateur talent is not ideal, but the current draft at least imposes a penalty on teams that want the best talent: they have to lose significantly (enough to get a Top 5 pick, generally) for a good number of years before getting a good player via their first round draft, unless they luck out. Even the Top 5 picks fail to become a good player over 50% of the time.

    What’s to stop a team from spending their whole budget and then the rest of the N-1 prospects they sign to $100 bonuses? Or $1,000? The majority of players obtained via the draft sign for no bonus, so $100 or even $1,000 would be appealing to those players. And when it comes to close money, prospects will chose a top team like the Yankees over the Royals or Pirates, as they have the bigger brand, due to their bigger revenues.

    I also think the bigger issue is improper distribution of revenues in the majors. That one team can outspend the average sized team’s budget by a 3 to 1 margin is simply outrageous. That’s why the draft was put in place, to prevent the Yankees from going out and buying Joe Dimaggio from his minor league team. Not every bonus baby works out, but when one team has so much more revenues than another, they win by numbers.

  14. Patrick
    20/07/2009 at 2:46 pm Permalink

    I like the ideas being discussed. My first impression before coming to read this site was that there would have to be a salary cap. The defecting Cuban players would also be part of the system as proposed so no team could benefit from just being able to sign them without their bonus’s being part of the whole picture. Too many bonus’s are getting ridiculous for the top players. At least, Scott Borass will be curbed in the bonus money he can get his client.

    Now MLB needs to put their top minds together and come up with a workable model to get approved by all concerned. Good luck and I will be looking forward to seeing the final proposal.

  15. Patrick
    21/07/2009 at 11:27 am Permalink

    The only problem I have with this system is the following:

    Who wants to play for the Royals? Not many people. Who wants to play for the Yankees? Everybody. I think SOME players would take less money to join the Yankees system, knowing that in the future they will get the larger contracts. If you let the players pick, the Royals, A’s, Marlins (all the smaller teams) will not be able the get the same quality player as they would at the beginning of the draft because those players would take a little less in this system to play for the higher-end teams.

  16. Patrick
    21/07/2009 at 11:40 am Permalink

    Why is that exactly? No one ever mentions the Cardinals in this breadth, but they’re a small-market team as well. The Indians are in a small market but have become a textbook franchise?

    Wouldn’t a level system force teams to compete based on the quality of their organization rather than dollars alone?


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