Fixing the draft

Jayson Stark has an article up on ESPN.com that discusses ways to fix the “broken” MLB draft system.

Exactly how broken is the current system though?  The number one argument is that it’s not fair, and, on the team level at least, that is somewhat true.  Teams with more money can offer players they draft in the lower rounds a bunch of money to sign.  However, consider this: the Yankees, clearly the biggest spending franchise in baseball, have maxed out at about $7 million per draft.  So for $5.5 – 6 million a year, any team can sign a good number of players.  And it’s not like they have to worry about a bidding war; once a team drafts a player, only that team can sign him.  Wouldn’t it make more sense, if you’re a small or mid-market team, to spend a few million less on payroll and instead compete heavily in the draft?  After all, young players are the cheapest players.

In terms of the players actually being drafted, the current system isn’t really fair, but in the opposite way.  By being drafted, players lose most of their leverage because they can only sign with that team.  It’s not a free market system.  Sure, these kids still sign big deals, but many don’t and for large percentage of them, this is the only big deal they’ll ever get.  Baseball requires an absurd 6 years of major league service time to become a free agent.  A $500k bonus may seem like a lot, but in all probability, that player won’t get another significant contract in quite a few years, if ever.

Stark makes the following argument regarding making changes to the draft:

They have to happen — because any system that’s paying an 18-year-old amateur more than a five-time Cy Young winner needs more repairs than a 1962 Volkswagen.

This is a very naive way of looking at things.  One thing teams are beginning to realize is that young talent is of paramount importance, as is paying players for what they WILL do – not for what they’ve already done.

If right now the Yankees put every player on waivers, who would be the most desirable?  Almost certainly Joba Chamberlain.  Is it because he’s the best player?  No, he’s the best contract – still cost controlled, with budding potential.  He’ll only get better.  Derek Jeter?  Undeniably a more valuable player than Joba in terms of winning games this season, but he makes $20 million a year and is in his mid 30s.  So the more valuable player to the franchise is Joba.

So to get back to Stark’s article – a system that pays the young player more than an aging veteran is actually a much more accurate one, in terms of rewarding the player who is in the most demand.  Isn’t that how it should be?  Should a player make more money just because he’s done more in the past, even though his value to a team, RIGHT NOW, is less?  To be clear, I don’t mean value in terms of wins and losses but value to the franchise, in terms of contract and potential.

Is the MLB draft perfect?  Certainly not.  But in order to truly “fix it,” it is important to identify what the real problems with the system are.  Stark fails to do that.

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