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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The Truth About the Drafts—NFL and MLB

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New York football Giants’ GM Jerry Reese was a guest with Mike Francesa yesterday to discuss his team’s haul in the NFL draft a week ago.

You can listen to the interview here.

Reese has won two Super Bowls and is the top football man of one of the most organized and serious front offices in the profession. During the interview, when discussing the media’s and public’s analysis of players and the draft, Reese said something very simple, highly intelligent and laser precise enough to stick a pin in the enormous and bloated egos of those who think they’re more qualified to assess, analyze, advise and criticize the players that are taken in any draft than those who are making the picks.

Well, I just think that there’s so many draft shows and people talk about draft picks and people don’t do it professionally for a job. We have guys who do it for a living. And the guys who don’t go to all the ballgames and scout them like we do here, I think there can be some misinformation.

He was speaking from his position running the Giants, but it applies to all drafts. My focus is on the NFL draft and the MLB draft.

The NFL draft has long been an extravaganza with a phalanx of armchair experts anointed credibility in a circular exercise without end. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines—with no responsibility—and say anything. Occasionally you’ll be right; occasionally you’ll be wrong; but without a career or job on the line, what difference does it make? All that’s necessary are a forum, the buzzwords and an audience.

I say this having great admiration for what a true NFL draftnik like Mel Kiper Jr. has been able to do in creating a niche for himself where there wasn’t one before. He worked very hard to get where he is and has made a lot of money doing what he loves.

That said, is anyone going to notice if Kiper says that he’d choose X player over Y player and Y player turns into a star? Probably. But is he going to lose his job? No.

Because the mandate of the draft analysts on ESPN, NFL Network, MLB and other outlets is to stimulate debate, disagree and draw attention to what they’re saying, there’s no reason to take it seriously.

If the mock drafts pop up and the repeated changes, “raging debates” and “eureka” discoveries as to why the “experts” are changing their minds isn’t based on any new information, what’s the point? We’re oversaturated with information as it is. It’s designed to attract webhits, ratings, attention and to sell draft guides. From higher ratings come more advertising dollars. If you know this going in and still partake for the theater, fine; if you don’t, then you’re being treated as and acting like a mindless sheep.

I could get my hands on a reputable website with the list of the top 30 potential picks in the NFL and MLB drafts, pick one and formulate a roundabout explanation as to why I did it without actually saying anything and there would be 1000 people saying it’s brilliant and another 1000 saying it’s idiotic.

Jon Gruden was savaged on Twitter for his negativity about drafted players. Said savagery was uttered by people who have no credentials to be critiquing someone like Gruden who is a Super Bowl winning coach, has extensive experience and would have another coaching job almost immediately if he chose to leave the broadcast booth.

Are you more credible than Jon Gruden? Is some guy on Twitter?

With the number of NFL players who were late-bloomers (Rich Gannon); lower round draft choices who found themselves in an advantageous system and circumstances (Joe Montana; Tom Brady); journeyman free agents who wouldn’t give up (Kurt Warner); or foundlings (Victor Cruz), and the number of top 3 pick busts (Ryan Leaf, Tony Mandarich, Blair Thomas), it’s not a science. Top NFL people are going to hit and miss.

So where does that leave Twitter-guy? Guy with a draft book and a dream? Radio man? Mel Kiper Jr.?

MLB former top picks in the draft are no more of a guarantee of success on the field or intelligence off the field. Just last week, former first overall pick Delmon Young was arrested for a fight outside a New York hotel that was classified as a hate crime because he, in a drunken state, made anti-Semitic references to the people he was fighting with.

In hindsight, Young hasn’t been a player worthy of the top pick in the draft either.

Anointed megastar Bryce Harper was caught in a viral video playing softball in a Washington DC park. What would’ve happened if Harper, trying to impress the people he was playing with, swung too hard and awkwardly and tore his shoulder in a softball game?

The video is below. It’s evidence.

Brien Taylor got into a fight and destroyed his shoulder.

Scouts were split on whether to select Ken Griffey Jr. first overall or a player named Mark Merchant. Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda. James Shields was a 16th round pick. Albert Pujols was a 13th round pick. Jose Bautista was a 20th round journeyman who hopped from one organization to another before getting a chance to play with the Blue Jays—who almost released him.

The Reese quote basically says that if a talking head on TV gets a pick wrong, he’s still going to be a talking head on TV the next year and five years after that. If Jerry Reese gets it wrong, he might survive in his job for a year or two, but five years of mistakes and he’s out of a job and possibly out of football entirely.

It’s their living.

If you’re suggesting that you know more than they do and have on the line what they have on the line, here’s a flash: you don’t.

It’s even worse if you say you do.

Because you don’t. And won’t.

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The Albert Pujols Mock Draft

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If Keith Law were to travel back in time to 1999—before he became the unwitting victim caught in the crossfire in that rare moment of Michael Lewis being completely honest; was subject to the formative mind-poisoning of the diabolical J.P. Ricciardi; prior to turning into Mr. Smartypants who played semantical handball with the truth—where would he place Albert Pujols in his indispensable mock MLB draft?

Without getting into another rant about the negligibility of the MLB draft—that it’s not like the NFL or NBA; there are so many variables in a player making in and succeeding in the big leagues that the moneymaking aspect of the MLB draft has sabotaged all comprehension to its randomness—you can’t give the Cardinals credit for taking Pujols any more than you can blame other clubs for passing on him.

Most recently, the revisionist history of why teams missed out on Pujols and the Cardinals were able to snag him (if you consider drafting someone in the 13th round “snagging”) extended to Jonah Keri’s otherwise engaging book about the Tampa Bay Rays, The Extra 2%.

Keri spent an entire chapter using as a basis for the perceived ineptitude of the original Rays regime that they had a workout for Pujols and subsequently snubbed him even after he rocked line drives all over Tropicana Field.

It’s a shaky premise at best.

Every other team missed on Pujols; it was the Cardinals who selected him.

No one thinks that a 13th round pick is going to make it to the big leagues; will be productive; turn into an All Star; or evolve into this—the monster who hit 3 home runs last night and is the best pure right-handed hitter in baseball since Joe DiMaggio.

The excuses are far-ranging and, in a sense, viable.

He had no position. The competition he played against in junior college was mediocre. His grasp of the language was limited. He was skinny. They don’t know how old he was.

Some of them are still in question.

The PED aspect has and will forever hover around Pujols. Unless his name pops up somewhere in a quack doctor’s notes or some drug middleman’s plea deal, he’ll be innocent; but we can never be sure he’s entirely clean. That’s just the way it is today.

As for Pujols’s age, I still don’t believe he’s only about to turn 32.

Be that as it may, such a tremendous player sitting undrafted until the 13th round is a testament to Pujols’s determination to succeed; his latent talent that may have taken a few years to completely manifest itself; the opportunity to play…and the ridiculousness of the draft.

If Pujols had struggled at any point in the minors, he’d have been released or traded—such is the nature of a later round draft pick in whom little money is invested.

That too, is the way it is.

We can let slide some of the star-level names that were taken in the 1st round of that 1999 draft—Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, Barry Zito or Ben Sheets; and we can discount the “tools” players like Mike MacDougal and Alexis Rios.

But Eric Munson? Corey Myers? Dave Walling?

And before anyone comes up with the egocentric idiocy of the Yankees “doing most of their damage” in the 20th round and above, they too let Pujols go sailing by; said myth of the Yankees being so astute that they selected star-level players like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada past the 20th round of the 1990 draft is retrospective nonsense—they got lucky; maybe if Pujols had lasted until round 22, they’d have grabbed him rather than Chris Klosterman.

Would Pujols have been noticed had his name been Josh Pujols?

These factors are indicative of the capriciousness of the draft and no amount of woulda/shoulda/coulda is going to alter that reality.

Would-be MLB draftiks seeking to mimic the admirable Mel Kiper Jr., endeavoring to create a career where there wasn’t one before are ignorant that I could thumb through a copy of Baseball America a week before the draft and find a series of names that would shield me from criticism (and that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?) for taking a certain player over another without having the faintest clue as to whom he is or whether or not he can actually play.

Albert Pujols hit 3 homers in a World Series game last night; this is while he was enduring a savage media onslaught for daring not to speak to them after game 2.

Pujols has a tendency to shut people up the right way—on the field.

Complain all you want for his absence from the microphones, but do so while bowing to him as one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the sport.

Such an appellation gives an automatic break for “unprofessional” behaviors.

He gets away with it because he can.

And he deserves to.

Because he’s the best.

Period.

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