5 Ways to Improve the MLB Draft

The Rule 4 Major League Baseball draft is coming up in about a month (June 9).  Unlike the NBA and NFL drafts which are surrounded by so much hoopla, the MLB draft is a relatively lowkey affair.  It wasn’t televised live until 2007.  I would absolutely like to see the draft made into a bigger deal, though I understand that it simply can’t be as important an event as the NBA and NFL drafts, where players can often make a large impact the first year after signing.  But here are some ideas that I think would improve the draft for the purpose of increased entertainment, strategy, and fairer player signing bonuses for lower selections.

No graduation requirement/age limit

It doesn’t make sense to me that players in places like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela can accept contracts at whatever age, such as Michel Ynoa who signed a multi-million dollar contract at age 16. Why should a player have to graduate from high school in order to get a job playing baseball?

I’m also tempted to say that the draft should apply to more than to just the United States and Canada, but I recognize that there are important differences in the way that US players are developed versus the way that Dominican talent is developed.  I would imagine that if the draft applied to international players, teams would have less incentive to develop baseball academies and contributing to the athletes’ communities.

Reduce the number of rounds

Currently, the draft runs 50 rounds (or until all teams pass), which is a comically long time.  For sake of comparison, the NBA and NFL drafts last two and seven rounds respectively.  The amateur draft used to be even longer, essentially lasting until everyone got sick of it and went home.  Future first-ballot Hall of Famer Mike Piazza was famously picked in the 62nd round.  If Mel Kiper did baseball, his mock draft board would need one of those sweet sliding ladders that large libraries use.  You could probably cut the draft to 25 or 20 rounds.  Let the players after that become free agents and sign where they want.  That would give them at least a little leverage in negotiations or allow them to sign close to their hometown or something.  It’s extremely unlikely that any one guy is going to make it to the big leagues, so the least you could do is let him work where he wants.  Keep in mind that players in these later rounds only get a couple thousand dollar signing bonuses and aren’t paid that well when playing in the minors.

Get rid of compensatory draft picks

Compensatory picks have almost the opposite effect of what they are supposed to be for.  Instead of compensating small-market teams who lose big-name players to free agency, it is rewarding the big-market teams who are signing these stars and later letting them go.  They can afford to risk offering arbitration (a necessary step in order to get compensatory picks) whereas teams with more limited budgets can’t do this.  Another side-effect (perhaps intentionally on the owners’ parts), is that teams aren’t willing to sign a Type-A or Type-B player for as much as they normally would because they would have to give up a draft pick.  We saw that this past offseason with Juan Cruz and Orlando Cabrera.

Allow trading of picks

This is a no-brainer.  I don’t see how anyone could be opposed to this.  It makes draft day more fun and it allows teams to be more flexible with the kinds of deals they make.

Implement hard-slotting for salaries for the first 5 rounds

This is probably my most controversial suggestion.  Some, such as Keith Law, have argued strongly against this, saying that hard-slotting and indeed the entire draft’s purpose is to drive down player signing bonuses and salaries by limiting player leverage.  But as a fan, I want to be entertained and, frankly, seeing teams pass up superior players in exchange for players with better “signability” is not entertaining.  I really don’t want to limit prospect’s salaries like this, as only a few of them will have long big league careers and I have no desire to see the owner’s pocket the extra cash, so I would suggest a very generous bonus slotting system whose values were proportional to the average Major League salary.  The top talents, like Stephen Strasburg, probably wouldn’t receive as much as they otherwise would, but some lesser players could potentially receive more money.  This would prevent ugly situations like the Nationals’ Aaron Crow debacle, the mess that was Pedro Alvarez’s contract negotiation, and more unfortunate outcomes like that of Matt Harrington, who was drafted five times but never signed a contract.  Anyway, the current slotting suggestions from the commissioner’s office are a joke and the only teams that follow them are the teams that are willing to draft poorly.

Arbitrary song of the day: Shakespear’s Sister – Black Sky (Dub Extravaganza part 2)


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