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Monday, November 14, 2011
Draft proposal would sell out amateurs

By David Schoenfield

In 2009, when the Washington Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg -- a pitcher many scouts called the best prospect they had ever seen -- they eventually signed him to a deal worth $15.1 million, including a $7.5 million signing bonus.

When Cuban free agent Aroldis Chapman -- like Strasburg, a hard-thrower, but far less refined as a pitcher -- signed with the Reds a few months later, he received a six-year deal worth $30.25 million.

Back in 1996, a little-known draft loophole allowed Travis Lee, Matt White and John Patterson to become free agents. Lee had been the second pick, Patterson the fifth and White the seventh. The first pick in that year's draft, Kris Benson, received a $2 million signing bonus. Free to negotiate with any team, White signed for $10.2 million, Lee for $10 million and Patterson for $6.075 million.

Still think the draft is fair?

Buster Olney reports that MLB and the players' union are close to agreement on a new draft structure that will penalize teams who go over slot in signing drafted players.

Don't fool yourself: This isn't about making the playing field more level for small-market teams; it's about the owners finding ways to cut costs and limiting signing bonuses is an easy target. The players' union is apparently willing to concede that it's not important for amateur players to receive fair-market value for their talents. As we clearly saw with the Chapman contract in comparison with Strasburg, or with what happened in 1996, in a true free market the top prospects would receive far larger bonuses than they do now.

According to Olney's report, the penalties for going over cumulative slot money would be severe -- a tax the first time, followed by the potential loss of a first- or second-round pick the second time. That second penalty could be harsh enough to dissuade even deep-pocketed teams like the Yankees or Red Sox from going over slot.

The current system of slotting recommendations never worked, because some teams followed the guidelines while others didn't. If a prospect was believed to desire a large bonus, he would often slide in the draft to a team willing to go over slot. Smart teams would draft players believed to be headed for college in later rounds and give them first- or second-round money. If this proposal goes through, that dynamic could change -- clearly, that's what Bud Selig and the majority of owners are hopeful what happens.

The draft rules have never been challenged in court, but I wonder if this system will eventually lead us in that direction. Or maybe we'll just see Scott Boras take a kid from Orange County and have him become a citizen of the Dominican Republic ... where he wouldn't be subject to the draft.