Thursday, June 7, 2012

Memo To MLB: Post-Draft Edition

This was going to just be the leftovers from my last post. A place where I can just throw out a few more things on my “wish list” that the MLB could do to improve its draft. However the way things shook out this year has lead me to make a slight change of plans. First (and least important so I’ll make this quick), I was reasonably impressed by the level of draft coverage we saw from MLB this season. One of the things that was going to be on my wish list was to see the first ten round of the draft broadcasted, due to their increased level of importance under the new rules. Crazy as that sounds, MLB did meet me halfway by webcasting rounds 2 through 10 with Jonathan Mayo (free from his chatroulette horror show) and (gasp!) Jim Callis from Baseball America! Although I just spent 1,100 words bitching about the MLB’s draft coverage, and I still have my gripes, it does appear the coverage is getting better by the year (although the pre-draft coverage still sucks). Well done, MLB.

The big story of the draft, however, is how the new rules altered the picks.

I still believe the outcry that over how these rules would screw over the small market teams has been overblown, since the prospects have lost leverage (just as Mark Appel how he likes his chances at that $6 million bonus now). Now it appears many of the new CBA critics have shifted the focus elsewhere, calling the new draft “flawed” because players aren’t being drafted in order of talent, claiming this is what MLB was intending; or as Perfect Game's Allan Simpson writes:

It may not be known until July 13—the new deadline to sign players—or for years to come whether all the new draft rules enacted will achieve their intended consequence, but one thing is certain already, after just 15 rounds: players are not being drafted in an orderly, more systematic manner.”

Right, teams were just shouting names into their phones in a chaotic conference call, just hoping to be acknowledged.

I don’t really know why anyone thinks Bud Selig would be upset that a 4th round talent was instead drafted in the 11th round, but to clarify, all that the MLB wanted to accomplish was keeping the cost of draftees down. Maybe, maybe they also cared about the fact that bonus demands were getting so out of control under the old format that the draft started to become less about evaluating talent and more about a team’s propensity to spend. But that’s it. Jim Callis told me, personally (through a BA chat, that is): “I don't think MLB cares about anything regarding the draft other than keeping costs as low as possible.” So it’s not really fair to judge how succesful the MLB was in doing something they weren’t attempting to achieve in the first place. But let’s humor this idea for a moment, anyway.

If the entire MLB draft were only ten rounds, then the results would’ve been just fine. We started out with teams going primarily for the best talent available and as the draft went on we slowly shifted more and more to the cheap, less-talented crop. Teams seem serious about staying within their budget allotments, and because of this they focused more on “signable” players. There weren’t any of these “just in case” picks. When a team drafted a player, every commentator proclaimed “You don’t take Player X in the Nth round unless you plan on signing him.” As the draft went on the shift slowly went from “ability to “signability” to the point where by the tenth round basically everyone was picking seniors who’ll sign for dirt cheap. Or as Simpson so eloquently put it:

No team may have manipulated the draft this year to its advantage more than the Houston Astros,
[five paragraphs later]
No team may have exploited the new draft rules… more than the Toronto Blue Jays”

As for those “unsignable” players, the thought seemed to be once a player slid down the draft board far enough he’d just get to a point where it became clear he’d go undrafted.

Then we got to the 11th round and that whole format was thrown by the wayside.

Teams went back to the old formula and started picking based on talent, singability be dammed. What we got was an 11th-15th round block that was a lot more talented than the 6th-10th. Hunter Virant, deemed too expensive for a second or third round pick, was just right for the first pick of the l1th round.

So what’s wrong with this? I suppose it’s a bit annoying for us fans (although it did lead to there being recognizable talent taken throughout the entire draft), but the teams seemed to make out ok. The 1st pick-owning Astros had one of the best top ten rounds and will have a good chance at signing all their picks. Plus they grabbed the top post-10th round talent (Virant) with a chance to sign him as well.

If the MLB wanted to maintain that nice run they for the first few rounds, where teams drafted based on (signable) talent then making the entire 40 rounds subject to one huge draft pool would’ve made sense. Having more rounds to choose from means teams would be able to go deeper into the draft before they begin their shift toward the cheap picks. And by making the entire draft subject to the bonus pool teams will have a vested interest in wanting to sign each pick so that they can maintain the amount in their pool. However, the double-edged sword with this idea is that it’ll just inflate the first round prospects’ bonus demands. At the very least it’s nice the MLB has gotten many of those “just in case” picks out of the top ten rounds, if anyone cares.

On the whole the first draft under the new CBA was somewhat confusing but nothing more. If the pre-10th to post-10th round shift really bugs you that much just look at the two is different “phases” of the draft, just like the old days. Teams (and agents) will adjust to the rules, but it seems for now the MLB has accomplished its (only) goal of controlling player costs, or to have Simpson tell it:

“almost every team has openly dismissed the spirit of the revised draft rules to manipulate the draft for their own self interests in their never-ending thirst to acquire talent.”

You don’t say? Sorry, I’ll end this digression (I actually had more to harp on), but this really reads like my high school Exit Exam essay I wrote when I was 14. I know Simpson’s a better writer than this.

Let’s just finish the rest of my wish list:

Allow Trading of Draft Picks: MLB, this is one phobia you’re just going to have to get over. The fear for years is that some teams will just punt of their draft and trade away their picks. To this I retort: Who the hell cares? It would turn the draft into some reasonably compelling television (and actually make the “clock” necessary) but more importantly, teams should simply be allowed to do what they please with their commodities. This is America, dammit. If you don like it her you can just git outtttt! (Sorry, Blue Jays)

Plus, having tradeable draft picks could have the opposite effect to what the MLB has feared. In fact, it could open the widow for the more shrewd small market teams, who everyone thought would lose their ability to stockpile draft prospects under the new CBA, to make up for this by trading for additional picks and increasing their allocations.

Draft Combine: I’ll admit some ignorance with regards to the frequency of private player workouts and the logistics involved in them, but it would seem beneficial for most parties if the MLB simply collected the top couple dozen high school prospects and conducted a pre-draft combine. No more endless private workouts (although keep the events sponsored by Perfect Game, and the like). Just a one shot deal that MLB Network can televise (improving that aforementioned crappy pre-draft coverage).

Keith Law gave this idea some legitimacy, recently stating in an chat:

“players are invited to so many workouts that they have to turn some down. MLB should look into doing a combine. It would spare a lot of these kids a lot of unnecessary travel.”

Good call, ya old sonuvabitch.

NCAA Partnership (maybe... I don't know): I’m wary of suggesting this, because lord knows how this would affect the college game (although I think damn near anything that gives the sport more scholarships would be great), but let’s just focus on the positive implications for the draft for now. A deal with the NCAA could lead to further, much need, televised coverage of the college game (and draft prospects) and potentially a draft date that doesn’t conflict with the regionals. I don’t want to see the college season cut any shorter, but it would be nice to have the College World Series precede the draft; allowing the college prospects to join the high schoolers at Studio 42 and give fans more of an opportunity to see them in action before the draft.


So there ya go. College season over (for me anyway). Draft over. Now on to the summer leagues.