MLB CBA—The Draft Changes Explained In Plain English

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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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Stop Enabling Billy Beane

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Just stop it.

It’s enough already.

The latest set of alibis for Billy Beane and Moneyball comes from Tyler Kepner in today’s NY Times and—in the greatest insult to our collective baseball intelligence yet—they’e being utilized in the same way to excuse his mediocrity as they were to build the foundation for his myth of genius.

He didn’t have any money and had to figure out a different way to compete; he doesn’t have any money now so that’s why he’s losing.

He was in a small, relatively unappealing market where players wouldn’t go unless they had no other choice; he can’t get players to come to Oakland.

He didn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities; he doesn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities.

There were stupid people in baseball; the stupid people have suddenly gotten smart and are using his innovations.

What’s next? Mediocre reviews of the film or a lack of connectivity between book and movie are turning players away from joining a club that partakes in such dramatic license in the interests of propping up a story? The old ballplayer line of rejecting a job based on cinematic liberties?

Why is there this investment from the media in trying to salvage what’s left of the farce that was the appellation of “genius” on the part of Beane?

Beane’s justifications are taking on the ludicrous nature the type you’d hear from a bust on To Catch a Predator.

“I just came to talk to her.”

“I wanted to explain that she shouldn’t be meeting men on the internet.”

“She needs to do well in school, study hard and get into a good college.”

It’s not believable; in fact, it’s nonsense.

This isn’t to imply the issues of revenue, venue and increased knowledge from his counterparts aren’t hindering Beane’s efforts to maintain a competitive team—of course they are—but you can’t use the same arguments to create the illusion of brilliance as you do when explaining away mistakes. It doesn’t work that way.

The biggest irony is the “kinder, gentler Billy” persona that Beane—quite the actor himself—is putting forth.

It’s laughable that the same character who ranted, raved, cussed, broke things and bullied subordinates is now a cerebral, down-to-earth, somewhat resigned caricature who’s using those ridiculed excuses from above as a protective cloak to shield himself from all criticism; what makes it worse it how he’s being willfully assisted by the sycophants in the media and his remaining apologists whose agenda is clearly in line with their so-called “stat revolution” that was supposed to turn every Major League Baseball front office into something resembling a combination Star Trek convention and Ivy League school reunion.

I’ll bet that the “Billy Beane” in the film, played by the likable Brad Pitt, won’t be smashing any chairs on-screen. The Beane in the book is not likable at all. The character in the book was tearing into conventional baseball wisdom and running roughshod over the old-school scouts and antiquated thinkers who were invested in their own version of running a team; the movie person will be more palatable to the mainstream audience it’s seeking to attract.

Is the objective reality that so often referenced as to why Beane did what he did?

Beane was supposedly too smart and too much of an analyst to make it as a player, so he transferred his self-destructive intensity into the front office and turned it into a positive while simultaneously flipping the world of baseball upside down; but now he’s finding the same varied list of whys to maintain the veneer that his terrible team is not his fault.

Whose fault is it?

Beane had his chance to go to a big market club when he agreed to take over as GM of the Red Sox and backed out.

I’ve repeatedly stated how much of a disaster that would’ve been as his plans included trading Jason Varitek and signing someone named Mark Johnson to replace him; moving Manny Ramirez to permanent DH, precluding the signing of David Ortiz; signing Edgardo Alfonzo who was near the end of the line; and sending Kevin Youkilis to the Athletics as compensation for Beane joining the Red Sox.

Luckily for the Red Sox, Beane walked away from the deal and chose to stay in Oakand. Michael Lewis’s story was that Beane finally had a monetary value placed on his work with the Red Sox offer—documented evidence of what he could get were he to auction his stud services to the highest bidder. That was enough for him and he returned to the A’s. Family considerations played a part in Beane’s decision to remain with the A’s, but there were other, unsaid factors.

Isn’t it easier to stay somewhere where the expectations are muted and you’re treated as a demagogue? Where you’re about to be given a portion of a billion dollar business all as a result of this concept of being a genius? Where there are always ways to stickhandle around any missteps with the financial/ballpark/venue/competitive problems? Of existing in a vacuum?

If I hired a “genius”, I’d expect the miraculous. I’d expect him to figure it out regardless of what obstacles stand in his way.

Beane isn’t, nor was he ever, a genius. He filled a gap and exposed a market that was rife for exploitation. Once everyone else figured out what he was doing and started using the same techniques he did, he was right back where he started from. Genius is innovation and in that sense, there was a shred of “genius” in what Beane did; but he’s no innovator in that he created something new. He found a weapon and used it like some megalomaniacal James Bond villain.

He’s been able to gloss over repeated rebuilding projects where he traded away the likes of Nick Swisher, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for returns that have been weak or abject failures. He’s dispatched managers for shady reasons—but if the managers don’t get credit for the wins, nor should they be saddled with the losses. His “card-counting in the casino” approach to the draft was the stupidest thing in the book and has been proven to be an utter absurdity with continually terrible drafts. His pitchers have gotten injured over and over; wouldn’t a “genius” find a series of preventative measures to keep his players healthy apart from referring to the idiotic Verducci Effect—which Beane says he does?

How long is this going to last?

Is it going to last until the movie is in and out of theaters when the bloom is off a rose that’s existed far too long and has been protected from reality in the interests of selfish motivations? Will others join me in stating the obvious? Will Beane finally be seen for what he is?

Or will there still be pockets of protest trying to refurbish the crumbling facade of Moneyball?

Moneyball lives, but in a different form; it’s a shape-shifter; a chameleon bent on survival at whatever cost.

I tend to think, as the A’s stumble to a 90 loss season, there will be other voices saying the same thing I do.

But I said it first.

Beane’s corporate terminology and sudden reliance on the reviled “subjectivity” to protect his legacy and fairy tale status has failed in theory and practice.

No one’s buying it anymore.

They’re just waiting until after the film to admit it.

And that only makes the subterfuge and self-indulgence worse and those documenting it less and less credible.

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