January 21, 2020

MLB should eliminate the draft

June 10, 2009 by · 5 Comments 

Yeah, you read the headline correctly. Major League Baseball should eliminate the draft and handle all amateur players as “free agents,” so to speak.

Sounds strange, I admit, and I’m sure some of you are thinking that doing away with the draft would only open the door for big market teams to clean up even more than they already do.

As Lee Corso likes to say, “Not so fast my friends.” Not if you do it the right way.

There would be a process if I were to get my wish and that process (more on that further down the page) would ultimately lead to three significant achievements:

1) The system would be more fair for players
2) It would take the power out of the hands of the agents
3) Small market teams could better use strategy and skill rather than relying on luck

First of all, let me address the issue of players.

Why are there two standards for how amateur players are acquired by big league teams? Why is it that some 16 year-old phenom from the Dominican Republic has the freedom to choose which team he will play for – and demand 1st round bonus money for making that choice – while kids from North America (and Puerto Rico) have to wait until they finish school and then have no choice as to which team they will play for?

Is that fair? Would you want to have to be “drafted” to pursue your vocation?

I know what some of you are thinking and you’re wrong. You’re thinking that these guys shouldn’t worry about fairness because they’re getting a lot of money before they ever lace ’em up for a pro team. That’s true for some but not true for all.

How much do you think a 10th round pick gets? A 25th rounder? A 45th rounder?

Sure, 1st round picks get a ton of money and perhaps they should sacrifice some freedom of choice for the financial freedom the bonus money brings but only a small percentage of players drafted will ultimately sign for significant amounts of money. Should all drafted players pay the price for the few who do actually make big money on draft day?

And which team a player ends up with ABSOLUTELY impacts what their careers will be. If you’re a hot-shot college slugger who can only play first base, you certainly would be better off with a team that might actually need a starting first baseman at some point in the next few years than you would be with the Yankees who just signed Mark Teixeira to a long-term deal.

Sometimes those things work themselves out, sometimes they don’t and players get lost in the system.

Some teams develop pitchers better than others too, so why should some young man whose livelihood depends on his ability to pitch have to rely on luck of the draw?

Having a choice seems like an All-American way of doing things, doesn’t it?

As for the agents, well, they’re very good at what they do but the current system makes it a little easier for them to make outlandish demands because the players are assigned a number that essentially determines their value.

If there is no draft, there is no #1 pick who can demand the sun, the moon and the stars therefore setting the market for everyone who comes after him.

If there are no first rounders who need to get paid “first round money” maybe things would get spread around a little more evenly and there would be less risk involved for teams, especially teams on a budget.

Right now the agents run the show in this regard and often their demands, based on where a player is drafted, dictate which teams will be able to sign those players. The Pirates pass because they can’t afford Player A while a team like Boston will take him because they can pay him. Pittsburgh then gets a lower caliber player at the top of a round, while still paying some kind of premium price, and the higher end team gets the better talent and therefore stays at the top.

If you implement a free agent signing system that gives each team the SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY (hey, sports fans love their salary caps) to spend in acquiring amateur players then you eliminate a lot of problems.

I haven’t had time to sit down and figure out the numbers but let’s go with a hypothetical situation and randomly pick $30 million as the number teams will work with, just for the sake of argument.

The Yankees have $30 million to spend, so do the Pirates. If a team spends all their money, they’re done handing out bonuses (they could still sign anyone they want without giving them a bonus).

This puts the kids in Kansas on a level playing field with the kids from the Dominican and also levels the playing field for the Kansas City Royals. By grouping all amateur players together and giving every team the same amount of money to spend each year on acquiring amateur players you take away one of the biggest advantages teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers have over the others.

Then you have the “hometown kid” factor. Wouldn’t it be great for baseball fans all across the country if that “once-in-a-lifetime” prospect could actually choose to play for his hometown team? How much hay could a small market team make if they could keep the local kids with star potential in town?

Some kids would go for the money, no doubt, but others might take a little less to play for the team they grew up rooting for and that would be good for some of the teams that don’t have unlimited resources to work with.

Just ask the Twins how much they benefit from having the “hometown kid,” Joe Mauer, as the player they’re building their franchise around. How great would it be to see other teams have the choice to go down that path rather than having to hope for that one-in-a-billion chance that the “hometown kid” who has superstar written all over him will somehow be available when it’s their turn to pick in a given year?

If you want to level the playing field, at least when it comes to giving teams a chance to load up their farm systems, you do it by allowing teams to build their farm systems as they see fit rather than by putting their fate in the hands of agents.

Small market teams could pass on the highest end players who demand giant bonuses and go for 3-4 guys at the next level down, thus giving themselves better odds of having players succeed, or they could shoot for the moon and make the choice to try to land one of the big fish if they think their organizational depth is okay.

There’s that word again: choice.

I want teams to have a choice. I want players to have a choice. I want agents to have less of a voice.

Getting rid of the draft, if done properly, would give everyone in baseball a better shot at competing at the big league level.

I know it sounds crazy but it certainly can’t be worse than the out-of-whack system we have to work with right now.

It’ll never happen, I know that, but it’s something worth talking about. There’s something inherently wrong with a system that allows the rich to keep getting richer that also puts kids from one part of the world (North America) at a disadvantage compared to kids from other parts of the world (Dominican Republic, South Korea, Venezuela, etc.).

P.S. – Totally unrelated to the above: someone please tell the Commissioner that if he wants to get real exposure and excitement for the draft it would be wise to schedule it on a night when there aren’t 15 Major League games being played. Just a thought.

Kevin Wheeler is the host of Sports Open Line (M-F 7-9 PM ET) on News Radio 1120, KMOX in St. Louis (www.kmox.com) and he is a baseball instructor with All-Star Performance (www.all-starperformance.net) and the St. Louis Gamers (www.stlgamers.net). You can reach him via e-mail at thebaseballgods@gmail.com


5 Responses to “MLB should eliminate the draft”
  1. From what I understand, the owners fear abolishing the draft would increase the power of the agents rather than decrease it. The draft gives them some sense of cost control in the fact that they can pay relative to draft position and ensure top-level amateur talent can end up with the clubs that need it most. Without that system, it becomes an all out bidding war, which favors the agents (who always want more) and the teams with money.

  2. Devon Young says:

    Interesting ideas. I’d like to see the draft implement a measure of balance for teams that draft a guy #1 or #2 but can’t afford to sign him. Whoever signs him, should pay a “penalty tax” to whoever originally had the right to pick him & try signing him. This would give teams like the Royals and Twins, a shot at picking great prospects and not worrying about whether to skip somebody because they might not be able to sign. I know it’s happened, and it just serves the Yanks & Red Sox type teams.

    Or maybe a salary cap should be put on drafted players.

    Either way, there should also be reason to keep a Bryce Harper from moving to Venezuela in order to get into the draft earlier (tho I’m aware Bryce ain’t doing that but I know someone in the future with great talent might choose that path)

  3. Kevin Wheeler says:

    Matt – I’ve heard that argument from the owners but that would really only apply to the Stephen Strasburgs of the world and even then it would be limited because the owners who voiced those concerns weren’t considering a system where every team has the exact same amount of money to spend on amateur signing bonuses.

    That’s the key to it all, giving every team an equal shot. So if the Yankees do decide to break the bank for someone like Strasburg the other teams can then gobble up multiple players with “first round talent” for the same cash output. It levels things out.

    At the very least MLB should try to negotiate a hard-slotting system like the NBA has. Nothing to negotiate means no team has to worry about guys not signing for financial reasons and it means nobody gets held up at gunpoint. Plus it means the teams that need talent the most will get it with cost certainty.

  4. James Farris says:

    I agree with your diagnoses of the problem, but that’s where it ends. Eliminating the draft would restict “choice” not help it. There would still be first round money, it would be like free agency, Donavon Tate would still wait for Strasburg to sign and set the market value. I don’t know how you implemnet a rookie cap, when you can’t implement a regular cap. What would keep the Yankees from signing a player, and then the next year renegotiating? Does your cap extend through arbitration years until free agency? I think all drafts will be like this as long as small market owners refuse to spend their revenue sharing, and the draft is restricted to only Americans, Canadians, and Puerto Ricans. I think a world draft would go farther to fix some of the problems you have more than anything would.

  5. I agree that if MLB is going to have a slot system, it needs to be like the NBA. Good luck with that, because I doubt MLBPA would agree to it.

    I believe David Pinto also espouses your view that the Yankees couldn’t buy every one. At the same time, I think it neglects the fact that the cash flow disparity is rather large between the rich teams and the bottom feeders. For example, if the Yanks decided Strasburg was worth $50M, they could still go after some of the players that the Pirates and Royals were after.

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