MLB CBA—The Draft Changes Explained In Plain English

The changes to the draft are complicated and their understanding is fluid—the reactions to the announcement of the changes were immediate and angry and didn’t appear to be fully grasped before they were made public.

Jim Callis explains the changes and why they might not be as awful as feared here on Baseball America.

Wendy Thurm explains the entire deal in the most easily graspable piece I’ve read on the subject here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll go bit by bit. (If I’m inaccurate or wrong, let me know. I won’t yell…this time.)

Limiting the bonuses.

There will be a yet-to-be-defined limit on how much teams can spend on their selections in the first 10 rounds without penalty.

The limit will be based on what was spent in total (aggregate) the prior season; it will be higher than the year previous.

Penalties are as follows (from the Baseball Nation piece):

Teams that exceed the ceiling by 5% will be taxed 75%; teams that exceed it by 5-10% will be taxed 75% and lose a first-round draft pick the following year. If a team goes over by 10-15%, the tax will be 100% with the loss of first- and second-round draft picks. Draft spending at 15% more than permitted will be taxed 100% and the team will lose two first-round picks.

Callis explains why it’s not going to be as horrible as initially thought:

In 2011, clubs spent a record $228 million on draft bonuses, and 20 of them exceeded their aggregate slot totals for the first 10 rounds by at least 15 percent.

However, the initial assumption that the new penalties would be based on something near the old slots doesn’t appear to be correct. Last year, MLB valued the total worth of the 331 picks in the first 10 rounds at $133 million. Those slot numbers were less that MLB’s guidelines from five years earlier, however, and were 44 percent lower than the $192 million teams paid to sign 303 of those players.

MLB won’t get to unilaterally decide the worth of draft picks going forward, though. It negotiated the values with the union, and they reportedly (and not surprisingly) will be much higher.

To the best of my understanding, this means that teams won’t be able to dump wads of cash on players who are consensus blue-chip stars without penalty. There won’t be any Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper bonuses nor a Major League contract.

Teams won’t be as willing to take shots on players who are coming out of high school or are college juniors  and offer then a check with enough zeroes to coax them to sign.

If a club thinks the player is worth it, then they’ll pay to get him signed. A Strasburg-level talent is going to get his money one way or the other, it just won’t be $15 million.

The players aren’t exactly free to take their talents elsewhere.

Like a fee for a loan or a closing cost, the percentage of the penalty can be folded into the bonus and shared by the team and the player. If a player isn’t interested in signing or having his check reduced, he’ll have a choice of not signing; but if he has nowhere to go and his amateur status has run out, he and the team that selected him will have extra motivation to get a deal done.

Where’s Strasburg going if he doesn’t sign?

I’m sure Scott Boras has a scheme running through his head as he sits in his darkened lair, his fingers tented, head bent slightly downward with his hooded eyelids barely glaring off into the unknowable darkness, but what he’s going to do to circumvent the new draft rules and the restrictions?

Fewer high school players will be selected in the early rounds if they’re represented by a Boras-type who’s going to demand they get paid regardless of any penalties.

“This is a special talent that deserves special treatment,” he’ll say.

But if there’s an Alex Rodriguez sitting there, a team is going to pick him and pay him.

Fewer clubs will gamble on a Todd Van Poppel.

In 1990, Van Poppel repeatedly said he was going to college at the University of Texas and that MLB clubs shouldn’t bother wasting a pick on him. This was a windfall for the club with the first pick in that year’s draft—the Braves—because they wound up taking Chipper Jones as a “consolation”.

Some consolation.

The Athletics had extra picks in the draft that year, so they picked Van Poppel 14th, offered him a $500,000 bonus and a Major League contract.

He signed and had a journeyman career. Whether or not going to college would’ve exposed his flaws—a lack of movement on his fastball; poor secondary stuff; terrible control—or helped him hone his talents is the height of 20/20 hindsight. Who knows?

Teams will undoubtedly go for a deep strike in this way if they can afford it. Those Athletics under then-GM Sandy Alderson spent money at all levels of the organization and were a championship caliber big league team willing to “waste” a pick for that kind of notable talent. That will happen again independent of financial penalty.

The expected quality of the next year’s draft and who will be available will directly influence this kind of decision; if there’s a weak draft class, a team isn’t going to spend crazily for a “maybe” and risk losing the next year’s picks and vice versa.

The owners; current big leaguers; and “choosing other sports”.

Owners care about saving money; big league players don’t care about the amateurs and are somewhat jealous of players who’ve accomplished nothing professionally getting a huge payday for being a draft pick.

As for the “great athletes going to different sports”, it’s a little presumptuous to believe that a young athlete can translate his talents from baseball to basketball (where height is a great equalizer) and football (where the monetary benefits are limited; the contracts are not guaranteed; and the abuse on one’s body is exponential).

Intelligent pragmatism will take precedence.

At 5’11″, 150 pounds, could Greg Maddux have chosen to play football? Maddux was so small that when he reached the majors, then-Cubs manager Gene Michael thought he was a new batboy.

Carlton Fisk was a terrific basketball player, but he’s 6’3″. Would that have worked out better than baseball, where he became a Hall of Famer?

I suppose Prince Fielder could play football and be an offensive lineman; Matt Kemp could be a linebacker; the 6’8″ Doug Fister could be a forward in basketball. But how many players truly have that option?

Mark Schlereth told the story about his nudging of his son Daniel away from football into baseball. Daniel Schlereth was a quarterback, but is 6’0″. The number of NFL quarterbacks who are that short and get a chance to play are extremely limited. The Hall of Fame caliber offensive lineman Mark Schlereth‘s “nudge” can put you through a wall; in this case it sent his son to baseball.

Even if they’re not getting a $7 million bonus for signing their names, $2 million is still a lot of money—enough money to have a pretty nice, leisurely life provided they don’t purchase ten cars and impregnate 5 women simultaneously; in other words, as long as they’re not stupid.

If a player like Joe Mauer (who’s used as an example in the Baseball Nation article) decides he wants to go and play football and baseball in college and walk away from a still-large bonus and run the risk of having his knee torn out in a scrimmage and having nothing, then that’s his choice.

It’d be pretty short-sighted though.

The draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

The idiocy of the Moneyball “card-counting” concept in which the Billy Beane-led A’s were drafting “ballplayers” rather than jeans models looked terrific…until they began playing the game professionally and their verifiable results from the amateur ranks, lo and behold, didn’t translate to the professional arena.

Some made it to the big leagues and played well; some made it to the big leagues and didn’t; some failed in the minors; some got hurt.

In other words, it was a typical draft.

The 2002 Moneyball draft for the Athletics was about as mediocre as the those of the teams that weren’t led by a “genius” nor guided by a computer.

This concept that teams who invest in the draft or have a “system” are going to get an automatically positive result through that conscious choice are ignoring the fact that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot. It’s perception that feeds the circular viewpoint that building through the draft is a guarantee to success. For every team like the Rays and Giants who’ve benefited from a detailed focus on player development and savvy trades, there are clubs like the Indians that hoarded their draft picks and dealt away veterans for top prospects and got middling-to-poor results.

These alterations will actually benefit teams in ways they haven’t thought about before.

The changes to the draft bonus money will limit the number of players who are kept around mainly because they had a large amount of money paid to them and the front office wants to save face by not admitting they made a mistake.

The days of “projects” or “tools guys” who are allowed to hit .220 and be baseball clueless or have zero command, zero breaking stuff, a lights-out fastball and little else will mercifully end. Performance or a deep belief in the ability of the player will be placed to the forefront rather than salvaging money or preventing public embarrassment for drafting and paying a player who couldn’t play.

The media tantrums.

You’ll see people in the media and bloggers who make their way and garner attention “analyzing” the MLB draft squawking in self-righteous indignation at the way the draft is bastardized and small market teams will suffer.

It’s an agenda-laden lament stemming from a hidden self-interest.

Because the number of players from whom to select will be limited, there won’t be the opportunity to “assess” and conjure mock drafts.

The mock-drafts and attempts to turn the MLB draft into an extravaganza the likes of the NFL, NHL and NBA are ignoring the limited knowledge of the players drafted and that the game of professional baseball, unlike the other sports, is totally different from the amateurs.

In football, they use different schemes and tactics from college to the NFL, but the game is the same.

In basketball, the 3-point line is closer in college; in the NBA the defense is better and the players are faster, but the game is the same.

In hockey, it’s hockey. The players are bigger and faster; the goalies are better, but it’s the same activity.

None of those sports make it possible to function as an entity unto oneself.

But in amateur baseball, they’re using aluminum bats and living under the thumbs of coaches and parents who tell the players what to do and when to do it under the threat of lost scholarships and playing time. In the pros, they’re using wooden bats, playing in poorly lighted stadiums with pebble-strewn infields in front of sparse crowds and clawing their way to the big leagues in a primordial rise where winning is secondary to the battle between pitcher and hitter.

In the other major sports, players cannot function without their teammates; in baseball, it’s individualism with a team construct and this cannot be replicated from one venue to the other.

The bottom line.

Changes are part of baseball and initially scoffed at as “ruining the game”.

Branch Rickey created the first farm system by buying up minor league franchises; it was ridiculed an eventually became the norm.

Baseball adjusted.

The draft was designed to prevent the Yankees from signing all the top players because they had all the money, championships and “lore” to lure (see what I did there?) to get the players to want to be Yankees.

Baseball adjusted.

The end of the reserve clause; divisional play; expansion; the Wild Card; advanced stats—you can find any change that was proposed and implemented and find fault with it; locate blanket statements from “experts” or “insiders” talking about ruining the game.

But the game’s still here.

It’s evolving.

It will adapt.

It will survive.

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