Hard Slotting Is Bad for Baseball

Though the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations between the MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball are not expected to infringe upon the 2012 season, the issue of instituting a hard-slotting system for the amateur draft has come to the forefront of the discussions. In fact, it is largely considered the only true roadblock in negotiations at this point.

The players view hard-slotting as the beginning of a salary cap in baseball, as it begins to limit how much teams are able to spend on amateur baseball players. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, is pushing a hard-slotting system as a way to curb the ever-rising bonus spending — teams spent a record $236M on the 2011 Draft — and to better ensure that the best amateur prospects are dispersed to the worst teams in an effort to increase parity.

With those two opposing viewpoints on the table, is hard-slotting good for baseball?

Before attempting to answer that question, it is important to understand what is meant by baseball. Baseball is not Major League Baseball. The MLB is a for-profit institution — a wonderful institution that provides a legitimate avenue by which we can live and breathe the sport we love — but an institution nonetheless.

Baseball is the abstract notion of the game itself. The same game that many of us played in the backyard with neighborhood friends or at the local park in a pick-up game that lasted hours and was only stopped when mom called for dinner.

And when it comes down to it, a hard-slotting system is not good for the game of baseball.

Professional baseball is designed to be played at the highest level by the most elite athletes in the world. Hard-slotting would severely limit the bonuses that are currently dished out to high-profile, two-sport athletes that attempt to woo them away from other sport commitments, namely football scholarships, which would undeniably lessen the talent pool.

As one big league scout said when asked about the effects of a hard-slotting system, “Kids would go play other sports. Plain and simple. For example, there’s no way in hell Zach Lee is playing baseball right now with a hard-slot system.”

Lee committed to LSU to play quarterback prior to being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first-round of the 2010 Draft. It was largely assumed that his commitment was ironclad and the Dodgers were merely saving money by drafting a player they couldn’t sign, but the Dodgers shocked the baseball world by shelling out over $5 million to lure Lee away from LSU into professional baseball.

That scenario would not have even been possible in a world of hard-slotting. The recommended slot bonus for the #28 pick in the 2010 Draft was $1,134,000, which would not have even gotten the conversation started with Zach Lee and his agent. The Dodgers would have lost (arguably) the top prospect in their system, and baseball would have lost one of the brightest young right-handers in the minors.

This story is not limited to Lee. A similar narrative can be told about Bubba Starling, Archie Bradley, Domonic Brown, Joe Mauer, Billy Beane, as well as dozens of other premium athletes throughout the years. This is not attempting to make some naive comment about how every high-priced athlete is guaranteed to be a huge star once entering professional baseball, but the overall talent level within the game is heightened when those athletes choose professional baseball over college football.

Aside from the theoretical discussion of what’s good for the game of baseball, it should also be noted that a hard-slotting system would not immediately increase parity within the game of baseball. That assumption works if big-market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs are perennially atop the list of bonus money spent each year — as it simply becomes another piece of evidence for the age-old argument that big-market clubs buy championships.

The problem is, however, that from 2007-2011, the teams that have spent most on the draft are the Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals, and Kansas City Royals. Not exactly franchises with monstrous payrolls. Of course, one can argue those three teams top the charts due to their position atop the draft year-in and year-out, but it’s not quite that simple.

For example, the Pirates have made gargantuan splashes in the draft the past few years, signing Josh Bell to the highest bonus ever for a non-first-round draft pick in 2011 and also signing over-slot guys such as Stetson Allie, Zack Von Rosenburg, and Colton Cain in the past three years.

Teams such as the Pirates, Royals, Nationals, Rays, and Blue Jays have devoted a large portion of their resources to the draft because they ultimately understand that the rewards of securing six years of cost-controlled production at the major league level is well worth the risk of spending an extra couple hundred-thousand dollars on a handful of players in the draft. Instead of committing that money to a throw-away reliever at the league minimum, spend it on multiple lottery tickets on the farm and get far more value.

Sure, big-market teams are able to spend more on the draft and still have enough in the remaining budget to out-spend on free agency, but small-market teams clearly understand the value of the draft. Curbing the over-slot deals hurts those same small-market teams that the plan is supposedly protecting, as teams with lower payrolls must find sustainable success through the farm system.

Draft bonuses may be rising to record levels every year, but the overall value teams are getting on premium talent far outweighs the cost. After all, Leonys Martin got a five-year, $15.5M deal as an international free agent, though he was not considered the equivalent of a top-tier first-rounder. Imagine if Stephen Strasburg — who received a $15.1M bonus — was signed on the open market. It would have dwarfed that Leonys Martin contract.

Hard-slotting is presented as a way to fix the MLB Draft. The problem is that the draft not broken. It’s certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (free agent compensation), but the system is not broken. Small-market teams are correctly utilizing the draft nowadays, and the current system allows baseball to pry away premium athletes from football and basketball. And ultimately, if we’re looking at the draft in that way — purely as a way to add talented players to the game we love — anything that would siphon elite athletes to other sports is bad for baseball.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

70 Responses to “Hard Slotting Is Bad for Baseball”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    And it’s not like there’s a ton of money that would be saved. Compared to free agency and arbitration, the rising costs of amateur signing bonuses are small potatoes. The owners are well aware of that. And I think most of the owners would feel that it’s good for the game for teams to try to hold onto their homegrown players in the face of arbitration and free agency. So why focus on draft slotting? You’d think that they’d rather focus on various ways to reduce the costs of arbitration and free agency.

    But the problem is that the members of the MLBPA never have to worry about being drafted again. They have some benevolent interest in helping out future pro baseball players, and there’s the slippery slope argument, but they’re much more concerned about league minimum salaries, the arbitration system, free agency draft pick compensation, and other things that affect them personally. So, if the choice is between giving in an inch in their negotiations about free agency rules, or giving in a mile on amateur bonuses, they’re going to give in on the amateur bonuses.

    So that’s why — despite the fact that it’s a terrible idea for the sport — this proposal is being seriously considered at the bargaining table.

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    • Slacker George says:

      “A rising tide raises all boats.” High amateur bonuses have a positive impact on non-draftee salaries; therefore, current players do have a interest in rejecting hard slotting. Don’t you think Agent A says during negotiations: “You gave Pasty Zittyface $3M and he hasn’t even made it to third base. Crusty Veteran led the league in OPS three out of the last four years.”

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  2. mickeyg13 says:

    As a Pirates fan I have mixed feelings about this. I’m thrilled that my team has recognized the value of the draft and has been willing to spend more than any other team in it in recent years. However, as time goes on it seems that more teams are starting to recognize the value of the draft, including some with deep pockets (the Red Sox have recently started to do this, and I suspect the Cubs will soon follow for obvious reasons). It’s currently a market inefficiency exploited by the Pirates, but if everyone starts doing this then that will no longer be the case.

    If spending on overslot bonuses ceases to be an exploitable market inefficiency, then I believe hard-slotting would indeed have the desired effect of helping small-market teams like my Pirates. However, as you mentioned that would hurt “baseball” while helping my team. Furthermore, we have not yet reached that point anyway.

    So even if I might selfishly prefer hard-slotting eventually (it’s only a matter of time before the Yankees join the overslotting fun), in the short-term I definitely prefer not having a hard-slotting system.

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    • stan says:

      Its not a market ineffeciency. Its the Pirates finally realizing some benefit for having a consistently bad team. Hard slotting would increase that benefit by bringing MLB to the same level as the other sports in terms of allowing some parity in talent acquisition. A salary cap would be even better but this is a good first step.

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      • NBarnes says:

        Advocacy for a salary cap in MLB is advocacy for the idea that the players are overpaid relative to the owners. Pure and simple. And if you think MLB’s owners are underpaid, frankly, I pity you.

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      • Paul Thomas says:

        Huh??

        It’s easy to imagine a salary cap (and corresponding floor) which gives the players the same percentage, or even a higher percentage, of sport-related income that they currently get.

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      • Blackie says:

        “Hard slotting would increase that benefit by bringing MLB to the same level as the other sports in terms of allowing some parity in talent acquisition.”

        I wasn’t aware that there was any lack of parity in talent acquisition in baseball. Care to demonstrate that?

        The salary floor is a particularly absurd idea, a sop to the players’ union designed to ensure that aging or marginal players with bad contracts have jobs, and an excellent example of how one bad idea (cap) leads to another (floor) in a bid to “balance” things. Watching NBA GMs trading for players based more on contract status than for their actual ability to help a team should give everyone pause.

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    • Franco says:

      I think the solution would be to give bad teams more picks rather than a overall cap.

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  3. maqman says:

    I agree, which surprises me.

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  4. Anon21 says:

    Absolutely agree. Anything to keep good athletes out of vastly inferior sports.

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  5. Perceptron says:

    Nice article, I agree wholeheartedly.

    Do draft bonuses count towards the luxury tax? If so, stop reading, the rest of this is just nonsensical rambling. If not, why not? The Yankees spent $6M last year on the draft, but if they had decided to outspend the Pirates and pay out $18M, then that’s $12M more above the luxury tax threshold, and they have to pay a lot more in tax money. This seems like one possible way to keep the rich teams from overspending in the draft without establishing a hard slotting system. I’m sure this is either crazy, or has been discussed before somewhere and dismissed for some obvious reason I don’t understand.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Only contracts on the 40-man roster count towards CBT calculations. For instance, the Yankees don’t get taxed for paying Kei Igawa’s $4M/year to toil away in the minors.

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  6. PirateEye says:

    Didnt the NFL just overhaul their draft to prevent this sort of thing from happening, teams allocating larger and larger percentages of their payroll to unproven rookies? Its great that the Pirates were able to land a guy like Bell with a later pick, but if he doesnt pan out it will hurt the Pirates much worse than say a team like the Yankees, who threw away millions on Brackman only to see him flop. These signing bonuses are small potatoes now, but who is to say they dont spin out of control and end up like the mess the NFL just got themselves out of? If hard slotting is not the answer, then maybe a salary cap on draft and international signing expenditures by team would be more palatable by both sides. Regarding losing 2-sport athletes to college, dont a lot of these athletes end up coming back to baseball as they are eligible to get re-drafted in subsequent years? Kenny Lofton, Bo, Deon Sanders, Derek Lee, Todd Helton, just to name a few.

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    • Byron says:

      The NFL somehow found themselves where players taken at the top of the draft were instantly among the two or three best-paid players at their position, year-in and year-out. I remember reading articles about how you had to take a QB #1 because no other position even had a chance of earning the money you’d inevitably pay the top pick. That is not the same as the Pirates giving Bell ~1/9th of the amount they spent on major league players last year (per CBS).

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  7. Older fan from TO says:

    Where is the balance?
    Players drop in the draft (Phil Hughes) to the NYY and the Red Sox already due to the cost/Scott Boras effect.
    Also need to address the issue of a world-wide draft which was supposed to be discussed a few years ago as part of the MLB/Players contract. Another source of big market teams signing multiple players and hoping for one or two — Cano and several others recent past and present. Top 10 NYY minor league players list about 7 non-draftees.
    Perhaps better to have a few people try other sports first while creating a more balanced opportunity to win for all Teams.
    Maybe you don’t get tired of seeing the NYY/ Red Sox essentialy every year in the playoffs -but I do.

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    • Woodrum's UZR Article says:

      i get the sense youre not a huge fan of NYY or BOS

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    • Seideberg says:

      Damn those Yankees, being the only team that signs all the foreign players!

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    • Jerome S says:

      As a Yankees fan, lemme just say, we ain’t winning by screwing you with the draft, buddy.
      They’re winning by running an overall smart baseball org that spends money wisely (enough of the time) and by finding as many avenues as they can to win.

      Which, incidentally, didn’t work out this year for the other team you mentioned, the Red Sox. No real problem there, they’re a fine organization – but look who beat them. The Rays, with their dinky, third-world payroll. And yet they’ve dominated baseball over the past three years.
      Imbalance exists, yes, and as a Yankees fan, lemme say thank God it does. But it’s not really that big of an imbalance. Ultimately, the smart organization comes out on top. Mostly.

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      • JJM says:

        “They’re winning by running an overall smart baseball org that spends [more than $50-100 million in payroll above other high-payroll teams.]” Fixed that one for you.

        “It’s not really that big of an imbalance.” Right. Tack another $50-100 million in payroll on any other team and see the difference that results from it.

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      • Jerome S says:

        Okay!
        [see: Cubs, Dodgers, Mets, White Sox]

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      The Yankees aren’t particularly adept at using their financial might in the draft. Plenty of teams spend more than them. This past draft, the top spenders (in order) were Washington, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Seattle, Chicago Cubs, Arizona, Tampa, San Diego, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Slot-Obligation.png

      And the Red Sox haven’t won a playoff game in 3 years.

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  8. cthabeerman says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but other sports “taking athletes away from baseball” is generally hyperbole.

    Zach Lee – 9th best pro-style QB at the time he was recruited. Well, there’s only 32 starting quarterback jobs at the professional level, perhaps 50 NFL jobs/position that pay a salary comparable to baseball. There’s roughly 125 starting quarterbacks in D1 football, rotating out year after year, with maybe a handful (nine signed contracts worth more than $2MM in un-guaranteed money in 2011) earning anywhere near slot money for first-round picks. The chances of him occupying one of those spots is relatively slim. Bubba Starling would have had a Tebow’s shot in hell of being an NFL quarterback after running the spread at Nebraska.

    So what is the more likely route for these players?? Well, they would have played college football and baseball, probably wouldn’t make the professional cut on the gridiron, and would have been drafted by a MLB team at some point later before becoming a professional ballplayer. Out of the “dozens” of players this consideration may have affected, 9 out of 10 still end up playing baseball professionally.

    So, if you’re not actually keeping players from playing other sports, how does a soft slotting system help baseball??

    Let’s look at Zach Lee again, in a hard-slot system. First, he’s probably not getting drafted 28th. Either he’s getting drafted much, much lower because teams know he won’t sign for the hard-slot value, or he’s getting drafted higher and would have received a much more money as a result.

    The loss of a low-round pick is fairly minimal and re-drafting the next year is not ideal, but it’s not horrible, either. If he signs, he’s still making more money than John Doe will ever see in his lifetime. If he doesn’t sign, he goes off to play college football and baseball for awhile and still probably ends up playing professional baseball.

    And, if his talent was lesser than baseball scouts had projected out of high school, he’s the only one to lose out. If he flops as a college player, the Dodgers won’t have to live with the regret of signing him for way too much. It was his decision to not take the hard-slot money out of HS and he blew it by not signing, in that scenario. That hypothetical is a win for both the MLB and baseball in general, because a player that wasn’t the most talented didn’t receive boatloads of money. The talent pool wasn’t lessened as a result of his inferior play.

    Feel free to retort, but I see no significant baseball reason why a soft-slot system actually helps. I think I see plenty of MLB reasons, though. That could be investigated a little more thoroughly if you listed the teams spending the most money above slot rather than simply the most money. Maybe I’m wrong and all the small-market teams are still spending considerably more over slot, which could often be attributed to having the top picks in the first place, but I think you’ll see the opposite as often as not.

    -C

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    • Byron says:

      You’re neglecting the idea that having a player focus full time on baseball when 18-22 might help his long term career development. Just in general, the more people who play baseball, the more talent the world will develop. Once someone’s shown enough talent to make a go of a professional career, I want him developing that talent year-round.

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      • cthabeerman says:

        I’ll admit this is a possibility, although we’re seeing plenty of college players fill the top portion of the draft. They weren’t two-sport athletes, though.

        Definitely an important point to consider…

        -C

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    • DD says:

      You make a good point that some of these players have little shot at making the pros in football or another sport, but that doesn’t stop them from using that as leverage in getting over-slot money. With a hard cap, the draftees lose any leverage, real or not, in a contract.

      Can someone confirm that for a player to be drafted, he has to elect/apply to be included, like in the NBA? If that is the case, any player who doesn’t want to play baseball in a hard slot system will not bother applying, and those on the fence who do apply and are drafted will simply refuse to sign if they are not drafted, say, in the first round or top 10, wherever their money cutoff is.

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      • MikeD says:

        So you view talented young players who have a skill they’ve worked hard to develop and then losing leverage as a good thing?

        The amount of money we’re talking about here is peanuts. It’s simply an attempt to shift a few dollars away from young men back into the pockets of rich, old owners.

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  9. Nathan says:

    I agee that it would deive away some talent but hard slotting would be good for college baseball, right? And isn’t one of the reasons that teams like the pirates and nationals have to spend more in the draft is that kids don’t want to play for one of the teams that has stunk for 10 or 20 years? Just like they have to over pay to land a free agent.

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  10. stan says:

    You can’t be serious about this. If there was hard slotting than Zach Lee would have been drafted where his talent merited instead of falling to the Dodgers because the other teams thought he couldn’t be signed. This is your example of a good result? A wealthy team like the Dodgers is in a position to take a chance at a pitcher who would be out of reach for other teams because of signability? How is that better than the A’s or whoever being able to decide if Zach Lee is the 8th best player, taking him based on that, and offering him pay him that very same amount that he got from the Dodgers because that’s what he was truly worth?

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    • Byron says:

      What you describe would be better, BUT IS NOT HARD SLOTTING. Under hard slotting, the “A’s or whoever” wouldn’t be able to decide anything. There would be a maximum bonus they could give him and you can bet it would be way, way lower than what he got from the Dodgers. And he’d be playing football now.

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    • Blackie says:

      Part of the error of hard slotting seems to be that people think there’s a magical dollar amount that amateur players are worth. A lot of the fuzzy thinking here seems to be a lack of knowledge regarding negotiation.

      Think of it in terms of a car purchase. Would you want someone else deciding how much the car is worth to you, or telling you there was a minimum you had to pay for it? Or if you were the car dealer, that there was a maximum you could sell for?

      What’s also being ignored is that the drafting team has sole negotiating rights. Imagine graduating college and being told that you’ve been recruited be one company with whom you have to negotiate. You can always opt out, but you’ll have to wait a year and see which company recruits you. Hard slotting simply accords another advantage to ownership when they already have significant leverage.

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  11. IvanGrushenko says:

    Your argument makes sense but I don’t see it changing the minds of MLB franchise owners. Can you come up with an argument that Hard Slotting is bad for MLB franchise owners?

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  12. FlimtotheFlam says:

    Hard caps seems like it would help teams with strong international scouting the most. Since it would free up some draft money to go to international signings

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  13. hey says:

    No, hard slotting doesn’t mean players have to sign with the teams they are drafted by. He would have went to college.

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  14. mike wants wins says:

    how about this as a compromise….(and this is not a well thought out idea yet):

    The teams in the top 10-15 in the draft have 1 month to sign 30-40 players, before any other team can sign them. This replaces the draft order, meaning that the worst team doesn’t necessarily get the first choice. It also still gives the worst teams first shot. This means teams can spend a lot of money if they want, or not spend any money if they want. It also means the top players can get more money.

    Then you have a 5-10 round draft. So, anyone that doesn’t sign goes into the draft, giving both the player and the teams some reason to want to sgin in the first month, as any player drafted has lost a year of leverage, as it were.

    This gives the top players more freedom of choice, probably more money, and will reward teams that sign the “right players” for the right money, instead of it being largely determined by draft order.

    Hard slotting is irrlevant in this scenario. It offers a compromise for people that want more freedom, and those that believe that completely abandoning the draft will put all the best players in the wealthy teams’ hands.

    or not, like I said, I just thought of this now.

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  15. James Lewis says:

    The problem with this article, and others like it, is that it assumes these two-sport athletes coming out of High School are being honest when they say that they are just as interested in playing football as baseball. Any player with a half decent chance of playing football at the college level would be stupid not to hint that they might pursue this avenue as a means of driving up the perceived “cost” to sign them.

    Josh Bell is a perfect example of this, whereby he made it clear that he was 100% going to college and had no interest in playing pro ball yet. Can anyone here honestly say that they know for sure it was the money Pittsburgh offered that changed Josh’s mind, and not that this was all simply posturing to extract the highest bonus possible?

    A hard slotting system removes this incentive to deceive by these potential draftees by regularizing bonuses. In this system, any player who really does want to go to college to play football should already know approximately how much they will be offered from an MLB team, and will be able to clearly, and HONESTLY indicate to major league teams whether they have the intention of attending college.

    The Zach Lee example is also rubbish because you falsely assume that Lee still have been taken at #28 even with a hard slotting system. Had a slotting system been in place, Lee likely would have been a top 10-15 pick since he only fell due to signability concerns. This would, of course, increase the offer which could have been made to him from the $1,134,000 you quoted. Alternatively, had Lee been serious about going to college rather than taking the money, such an indication could have been made pre-draft to allow teams to avoid taking him.

    The idea that hard slotting will hurt baseball in a more “nebulous” sense is obviously more difficult to assess, but let’s not forget that a player heading to college to play football doesn’t then preclude them from playing professional baseball, and we shouldn’t assume that any player that chooses college over pro-ball is somehow more inclined to pursue football professionally.

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    • Ben F says:

      Not to mention, a hard slotting system provides a take-it-or-leave-it offer, meaning players will sign quicker (rather than protracted negotiations), helping them start their pro careers sooner, which seems good for baseball.

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    • Blackie says:

      “A hard slotting system removes this incentive to deceive by these potential draftees by regularizing bonuses.”

      Oh, dear. Poor ownership! It must be terrible dealing with all these duplicitous players. lol

      People really are delusional about this. Maybe you’ll be satisfied when everyone but the biggest stars in the game have to work in the off-season again?

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  16. reillocity says:

    You do realize that the broadly-defined powers of the Commissioner’s office give Bud Selig the authority to deport you from Wisconsin, eh?

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  17. NM says:

    “Instead of committing that money to a throw-away reliever at the league minimum, spend it on multiple lottery tickets on the farm and get far more value.”

    This sentence just made me think of it for some reason, but how funny is it that the Jays essentially turned Miguel Olivo (and cash) into Kevin Comer?

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  18. Joe says:

    NFL owners did not get themselves into a mess. Draft picks are still highly valued, just ask the players who get traded for them. The NFL found a way to make current players happy and make themeselves more money. The people who set football draft market are the same people compaining players make too much.

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  19. Detroit Michael says:

    If there was hard-slotting, then wouldn’t the average amount of time spent between the draft and when players signed be reduced and players would spend more time in the minors developing their baseball skills? We’re only talking about at most a couple months to be sure, but it is plausible to me that this effect in the opposite direction is of about the same magnitude as the “handicapped in competing for two-sport stars” effect your article emphasizes.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      There would be some benefit to that, yes. But there’s other ways of gaining the same benefit. Like, simply moving the signing deadline up.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Does anyone know why the amateur draft doesn’t already take place in the winter, when you could provide a generous signing window without it affecting development time? Too many other things on GMs’ plates in the winter? Synchronization with school schedules/decisions to commit to colleges?

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      • Blackie says:

        “But there’s other ways of gaining the same benefit. Like, simply moving the signing deadline up.”

        Exactly. But why resolve the issue sensibly when you can punish the players instead?

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  20. TeaKayForTooWon says:

    If two-sport athletes are choosing baseball for the money then baseball has bigger problems. If you are actually suggesting that a significant number of two-sport athletes would have chosen their other sport were it not for baseball throwing more money at them, then we clearly aren’t discussing the true issue.

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    • G. Oak says:

      If you can do two things really good, and like both more or less the same, why wouldn’t you pick the bigger paycheck?

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    • MikeD says:

      And baseball does have a bigger problem, although it is still related to money.

      Baseball has lost a lot of talent over the years to other sports, but it’s not occuring as the player is 17 or 18 and he decides to pick football or basketball over baseball. It’s happening much earlier, when youngsters see focus on other sports at a young age. They never even develop into baseball players because they’re not playing baseball. A slotting system will just make it worse.

      Let’s say this leads to yet further erosion, the loss of another two to three percent of players. Why would baseball do that? Create less interest, less participation and lost talented athletes to save a couple million dollars, while at the same time removing the flexibility of MLB teams to target specific players.

      I’m amazed this is even being discussed.

      The next stupid thing they’re going to try and do is institute an international draft, which of course will dry up the talent because the money will go away, which his exactly what happened in Puerto Rico.

      The people who run MLB make some very dumb decisions at times.

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      • Slacker George says:

        A couple of points:
        1. You are correct: the bigger talent drain starts early.

        2. I don’t think that the talent drain has anything to do with perceived paydays down the road. Salaries have risen dramatically (yes, in all sports), but baseball still offers the greatest opportunity (# of paying positions) for high salary over the longest careers with minimal physical risk. Reductions in facilities, the explosion of choices, etc. have more to do with the reduced interest.

        3. Describe what MLB would look like with another two to three percent of primo soccer/basketball/tiddlywink athletes? I’m guessing it would not appear any different, if you could compare it, and because you can’t, we’d never know the difference. Being human, we’d complain about how the players cared more “in my day” and blah-blah-blah.

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  21. JT Grace says:

    Disagree. I think hard slotting is the way to go to ENSURE that the best players go to the worst teams. How many players have the Tigers stolen because they had more money in their draft budget (Verlander, Porcello, Jacob Turner, etc.) than other teams drafting ahead of them.

    Also, why not make players declare for the draft like the do in the NBA and the NFL? If they declare and are drafted but don’t sign, the drafting teams holds their rights for 6 years.

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    • Byron says:

      Ah yes, the mid-2000s Tigers, that famous revenue-machine, parlaying its enormous and not at all shrinking or experiencing a recession 5 years before the rest of the country city into a never-ending cycle of investment and profit.

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    • Byron says:

      Seriously though, there are about 1,700 roster spots as professional football players that get filled through the NFL draft (NFL rosters and practice squad), 570 as professional basketball players in the US (NBA plus D-League), and 8845 professional baseball players who were eligible for the MLB draft (source: a baseballid .csv file counting leagues listed at Fangraphs under “Leaders”). The NFL drafts 254 players, or 15% each year. The NBA drafts 60, or 10.5%. MLB drafts 1,530, or which only comes out to 17.3%, but has to be considerably higher when you remember that the draft (which is what we’re talking about here) only applies to American players. I’m not going to try and figure out what % of the 8845 players were Americans, but if it’s half (does that seem reasonable?) then you’re looking at 35% of American professional baseball players being replaced every year. How much room does that leave for the “undrafted free agent” compared to the NBA and NFL?

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    • Blackie says:

      “How many players have the Tigers stolen because they had more money in their draft budget”

      Please support the contention that the Tigers had “more money”. It’s more likely that they were just willing to spend more.

      And Verlander and Turner were picked second and ninth in their respective drafts. How were those steals?

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  22. MauerPower says:

    What’s the difference between a hard and soft cap?

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  23. Kevin S. says:

    teams spent a record $236M on the 2011 Draft

    Translation: The average team acquired all of its Rule 4 draftees for roughly the free-market value of Nick Punto or Glen Perkins. And people have a problem with this?!

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  24. Ben F says:

    So since having better players in baseball is good, and more money gets better players, would you advocate RAISING the amount paid by the slotting system. A slotting system that mandates higher salaries than we have now? And how much higher? Double? Triple?

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  25. Question says:

    Part of the reason two-sport athletes get the deals they get is because you can spread the bonus out over a certain numbers of years. And part of the reason why you can do this is that the two-sport athlete is on a full ride scholarship. Very few baseball only players will receive full ride scholarships because the NCAA only allows 11.2 scholarships per team.

    If they are going to put in a hard slot, the NCAA must also increase the number of available scholarships for baseball.

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    • Question says:

      The lack of baseball schorlaships available also is a reason why the talent pool gets drained, as high schools focus more on the football and basketball programs where scholarships are available and push the athletes in those directions.

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  26. Paul Thomas says:

    My preferred solution would be to abolish the draft altogether and simply institute heavy revenue redistribution and mandated spending levels. That’s not likely to happen because it would cost the owners a lot of profit and the players union doesn’t really have a strong incentive to fight for it. One way or another, though, this system is broken.

    Yes, for the moment, small market teams are able to be competitive in draft signings. Eventually, that won’t be the case. Every year, the number of teams holding to slot money decreases, and the cost of amateur talent to those small market teams increases. At some point, the draft cartel will, as it were, hit the bottom of the Nash equilibrium and degenerate into a system little different from free agency.

    At the point where players can effectively steer themselves to large-market teams by making hefty bonus demands– and I think we’re basically at that point– the efficacy of a draft to distribute talent to teams lacking in it starts to become seriously impaired.

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    • Blackie says:

      “My preferred solution would be to abolish the draft altogether and simply institute heavy revenue redistribution and mandated spending levels.”

      You should have stopped after “abolish the draft altogether.”

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  27. MikeD says:

    Good heavens. $236 million averages out to $7.8 million per team. NOTHING. That’s less than the price of a mediocre starting pitcher. There is not a single MLB team that can not afford to draft amateur talent. And, yes, I’m sure it was a record. Inflation is funny that way. There’s always a new record the following year or two. The statement means nothing.

    So let’s see. Instead of $7.8 million, maybe the average drops to $6 million. So in order to save an average of $2 million dollars, less than what it cost for a broken down relief pitcher, teams will risk losing talent and not having the flexibility to sign talent?

    Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

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  28. Ron Brown says:

    I don’t see how a hard-slotting system would in anyway work against the small market teams, as this article claimed toward the end. Small market teams will be able to get, on average, better players compared to the field of draftees (i.e., all of those that signed up to be drafted, excluding the few that went and played football instead) because richer teams that are drafting later in the order won’t be able to lure draftees into threatening not to sign unless they get $3M signing bonuses. Some smaller market teams are bringing out their wallets to meet these high bonus demands, and so they often get their player, but they do so at great economic cost. $2M or $3M for a single player (rather than say $1.2M) might only be about $1 difference, but across an entire draft, over-slotting will result in the spending of a few extra million, which is a higher cost to a team with an annual budget of $60M than for a team whose budget is $110M.

    The small market teams, by virtue of having higher draft picks, will get as good or better players (relatively to the draft slate) for a lower cost, which has the added benefit of leaving them with more money to play with on the free agent market. It will lead to a greater degree of parity.

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