MLB Inches Closer Toward The Trading Of Draft Picks

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The trades that were completed yesterday were a distraction for a slow day. Righty pitcher Scott Feldman was traded from the Cubs along with catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for righty pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop and cash. The cash in a trade is usually to offset contracts or provide a sweetener to complete a deal, but in this case the cash is international bonus money that the Cubs will use to accrue extra wiggleroom to sign free agents. They also acquired more bonus pool money from the Astros in exchange for minor leaguer Ronald Torreyes. They traded away some of that money in sending Carlos Marmol and cash to the Dodgers for veteran reliever Matt Guerrier.

The trades are secondary to the money exchanges. You can read about the ins-and-outs of why the Cubs, Dodgers and Astros did this here and the details of trading bonus slot money here. What the shifting around of money says to me is that MLB is experimenting with the concept of trading draft picks, something I’ve long advocated. That they’re trying to implement an international draft to shackle clubs’ hands even further from spending makes the trading of draft picks more likely.

With the increased interest in the MLB draft, one of the only ways to turn it into a spectacle that will function as a moon to the NFL draft’s sun and NBA’s Earth is to allow teams to trade their picks. Because amateur baseball pales in comparison to the attention college football and college basketball receive; because the game of baseball is so fundamentally different when making the transition from the amateurs to the pros, there is a finite number of people who watch it with any vested interest and a minimum percentage of those actually know what they’re looking at with enough erudition to accurately analyze it. It’s never going to be on a level with a Mel Kiper Jr. sitting in the ESPN draft headquarters knowing every player in the college ranks and being able to rattle off positives, negatives and why the player should or shouldn’t have been drafted where he was with it having a chance to be accurate. MLB tries to do that, but it’s transparent when John Hart, Harold Reynolds and whoever else are sitting around a table in an empty studio miraculously proclaiming X player of reminds them of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Matt Harvey, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or Dustin Pedroia when they’ve seen (or haven’t seen) a five second clip of him; when Bud Selig takes his mummified steps to the podium to announce the names of players he couldn’t recognize if they were playing in the big leagues now. And don’t get me started on the overall ludicrousness of Keith Law.

There’s no comparison between baseball and the other sports because in baseball, there’s a climb that has to be made after becoming a professional. In football and basketball, a drafted player automatically walks into the highest possible level of competition. With a top-tier pick, the football and basketball player isn’t just a member of the club, but he’s expected to be a significant contributor to that club.

With baseball, there’s no waste in a late-round draft pick because there’s nothing to waste. Some players are drafted to be organizational filler designed to complete the minor league rosters. If one happens to make it? Hey, look who the genius is for finding a diamond in the rough! Except it’s not true. A player from the 20th round onward (and that’s being generous) making it to the majors at all, let alone becoming a star, is a fluke. But with MLB putting such a focus on the draft, that’s the little secret they don’t want revealed to these newly minted baseball “experts” who started watching the game soon after they read Moneyball and thinks a fat kid who walks a lot for a division III college is going to be the next “star.” Trust me, the scouts saw that kid and didn’t think he could play. That’s why he was drafted late if he was drafted at all. There’s no reinventing of the wheel here in spite of Michael Lewis’s hackneyed and self-serving attempts to do so.  Yet MLB draft projecting has blossomed into a webhit accumulator and talking point. There’s a demand for it, so they’ll sell it regardless of how random and meaningless it truly is.

So what does all this have to do with the trading of the bonus slot money? MLB allowing the exchange of this money will give a gauge on the public reaction and interest level to such exchanges being made to provide market research as to the expanded reach the trading of draft picks would yield. If there’s a vast number of websearches that lead MLB to believe that it’s something that can spark fan fascination, then it’s something they can sell advertising for and make money. It’s a test case and once the results are in, you’ll see movement on the trading of draft picks. It’s a good idea no matter how it happens. Now if we can only do something to educate the masses on how little Keith Law knows, we’ll really be getting somewhere.

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My Annual MLB Draft Rant

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I tuned into the draft coverage on the MLB Network last night for a brief moment as they were up to pick 40 or so.

When talking about the newly minted MLB draftees, Harold Reynolds had the same look on his face as Sarah Palin when she discusses neuroscience.

And among the panel on the MLB Network, Reynolds was the eloquent one.

Reynolds himself was the 2nd pick in the 1980 MLB Draft. To get a gauge on how convoluted the draft was back then, Reynolds was taken in the secondary phase of the June draft. It’s safe to say that if he’d been taken in the regular phase, Reynolds would not have been the second overall pick when Darryl Strawberry, Darnell Coles and Billy Beane—prep school standouts all—were in the draft.

Reynolds was a good big league player, but not worth such a high pick under any circumstances. That analysis is, of course, in retrospect.

He might’ve been drafted that highly because no one–no….one–knows what 99.9% of the drafted players are going to become. There are so many variables that it’s impossible to know. And that’s the point.

John Hart was also on the MLB Network panel and he has a unique perspective into the draft because he’s been a baseball man and run two different organizations. That perspective should have led Hart to toss his hands up in the air and say, “Who knows?”

Hart was one of the GMs who passed on Derek Jeter in 1992. In the case of the Indians (Hart’s club) it was in favor a right-handed pitcher named Paul Shuey.

Was it the ghastly mistake that hindsight suggests it was? Or did the Indians and the other teams who let Jeter “slip” by see something in another player that made those players preferable to Jeter?

There are very few players who are consensus first round picks and can be expected to be star big leaguers. It didn’t take much effort to look at Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg and anoint them as future megastars. For Jeter, who would’ve looked at that skinny and somewhat funny looking high school kid with the fade haircut and expected him to become what he’s become?

No one. Not even the Yankees.

Hart knows this. The armchair experts don’t.

Most of the draft comments I saw were coming from people who don’t know anything about MLB itself, so what are the odds they’re going to know anything about the draft?

What I found laughable was what passed for “insider” analysis from people on the web. They were regurgitating stuff they read in a scouting directory or saw online and treating it as if it’s gospel. If the inside baseball people don’t know what a player is going to be, then you can be pretty sure that a guy sitting in front of his computer and never picked up a baseball doesn’t know either.

There were players being compared to Willie Mays.

Willie Mays!!!

Willie Mays is, by many estimates, the best player ever. So some 17-year-old kid is going to be the next Mays? Really?

I can tell you right now that the odds of that happening are zero point zero zero zero zero zero zero zero.

In other words, it’s not going to happen.

Then imaginary controversies were created. What did it mean to Jose Iglesias that the Red Sox drafted a shortstop with their first pick?!? Did it mean they no longer believe in Iglesias?

No. It means that they saw a player they had use for—in some way as a player, as a trade chip, as a guy they didn’t want and decided to draft to save the money for next year’s draft, for whatever—and selected him. A shortstop can be moved anywhere on the field and play adequately. Bret Saberhagen was drafted as a shortstop who’d pitched a bit in high school and the Royals decided that he was going to pitch after they’d drafted him. Two Cy Young Awards and a World Series MVP later, a potential Hall of Fame career as a pitcher had been derailed by injuries. Saberhagen would not have been what he was as a shortstop if he even made it to the big leagues at all.

There’s no “approach” to the draft. It’s not about signability; it’s not about drafting college players who are close to the big leagues to help immediately; it’s not about money in the bottom-line sense. It’s about picking players who you think have talent and hoping they develop to be used as trade chips or to make it to the big leagues and play for the team that drafted them.

The talk about the changes made to the draft in the CBA are irrelevant and missing the main point that it’s the big league players in the union now who screwed the amateurs because they’d had enough of the Harpers and Strasburgs of the world getting money that could have (and in their mind should have) been allocated to established big leaguers. I can tell you the thinking of the big leaguers who were faced with a relatively hard salary cap and teams like the Athletics and Rays telling potential free agents that they only had X amount of money to spend per year on the organization as a whole; Y was allocated to the big league product; Z was going into the draft.

Why would any big leaguer in his right mind want to see a $15 million check handed to some kid out of high school when an agreement could be made to tamp that down as a rule with punishing sanctions dropped on the collective heads of the teams that flout those rules?

The attitude of the MLB union chafing at a player never having played professionally getting that kind of money isn’t wrong. Let them work their way up. Let them deal with constrictions of what they can make.

You’re being sold snakeoil. The draft is important, but it’s not worth all this faux attention given to it by people who don’t know much of anything about the players they’re talking about apart from what they’re fed.

Reynolds, Hart and everyone else used the buzzwords: upside, power fastball, speed, athleticism to cover up the fact that they had no idea who or what the majority of the drafted players were.

It’s a speculative farce.

When he was broadcasting NFL games, Terry Bradshaw used to use a fake player’s name as being in on a tackle every single week regardless of which teams were playing. No one noticed.

I’d love to come up with a fictional player for next year’s draft complete with a bio, photo and video and say that he’s a potential top pick with some array of skills that make him viable not as the first pick in the first round, but as someone who could be taken between rounds one and five. Someone would buy into it’d go viral.

For a player and person who doesn’t exist.

Would anyone notice?

I’m dubious.

That might explain how ridiculous this whole charade is and the attention paid to it would stop.

It would work too. I know it would. And it would absolutely be more entertaining that this current nonsense.

It’s no contest.

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