The Draft’s Biggest Flaw

The Major League domestic amateur draft takes place this week, kicking off with the first and second rounds on Thursday night, then continuing on with rounds 3-10 on Friday and rounds 11-40 on Saturday. We haven’t done a ton of draft preview stuff because that’s simply not our strength, and there are a lot of other places — Baseball America, most notably — who specialize in high quality draft coverage, and will give you all the information you need if you want to know who is going to be drafted where.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care about the draft, though. For the basics of the new draft system, you can check out Wendy Thurm’s first and second primers on how the setup works, and then J.D. Sussman asked whether or not we even need a draft to maintain competitive balance earlier this morning. Those pieces are worth reading.

I’m going to throw my hat into the ring of draft related articles, because I want to write about the order of picks in the 2013 first round, and because that selection order highlights the biggest problem with the current draft structure: the penalization of success.

Those who argue in favor of maintaining the draft for competitive balance reasons argue that, regardless of its other agendas, the draft does serve to push the best players to losing teams, equalizing the playing field to some degree. I agree that, overall, it is generally successful at helping redistribute talent to franchises who don’t have the same financial capabilities as some of the big market teams. However, the 2013 draft order shows that the system doesn’t always work towards that goal, and sometimes, the results of tying draft selection order to previous season winning percentage are just silly.

Here is the order of selections for the first 39 picks per Baseball America, which includes the first round and the compensation selections awarded to teams. The slot value for each pick is included for reference, and then I’ve also included the Forbes pre-season revenue estimates for each franchise as well.

Pick Team Reason Assigned Value Forbes Revenues
1 Astros Team Record $7,790,400 196M
2 Cubs Team Record $6,708,400 274M
3 Rockies Team Record $5,626,400 199M
4 Twins Team Record $4,544,400 214M
5 Indians Team Record $3,787,000 186M
6 Marlins Team Record $3,516,500 195M
7 Red Sox Team Record $3,246,000 336M
8 Royals Team Record $3,137,800 169M
9 Pirates For failure to sign Mark Appel $3,029,600 178M
10 Blue Jays Team Record $2,921,400 203M
11 Mets Team Record $2,840,300 232M
12 Mariners Team Record $2,759,100 215M
13 Padres Team Record $2,678,000 189M
14 Pirates Team Record $2,569,800 178M
15 Diamondbacks Team Record $2,434,500 195M
16 Phillies Team Record $2,299,300 279M
17 White Sox Team Record $2,164,000 216M
18 Dodgers Team Record $2,109,900 245M
19 Cardinals Team Record $2,055,800 239M
20 Tigers Team Record $2,001,700 238M
21 Rays Team Record $1,974,700 167M
22 Orioles Team Record $1,947,600 206M
23 Rangers Team Record $1,920,600 239M
24 Athletics Team Record $1,893,500 173M
25 Giants Team Record $1,866,500 262M
26 Yankees Team Record $1,839,400 471M
27 Reds Team Record $1,812,400 202M
28 Cardinals For loss of free agent Kyle Lohse $1,785,300 239M
29 Rays For loss of free agent B.J. Upton $1,758,300 167M
30 Rangers For loss of free agent Josh Hamilton $1,731,200 239M
31 Braves For loss of free agent Michael Bourn $1,704,200 225M
32 Yankees For loss of free agent Nick Swisher $1,677,100 471M
33 Yankees For loss of free agent Rafael Soriano $1,650,100 471M
34 Royals Competitive-balance lottery $1,623,000 169M
35 Marlins Competitive-balance lottery, from Pirates $1,587,700 195M
36 Diamondbacks Competitive-balance lottery $1,547,700 195M
37 Orioles Competitive-balance lottery $1,508,600 206M
38 Reds Competitive-balance lottery $1,470,500 202M
39 Tigers Competitive-balance lottery, from Marlins $1,433,400 238M

The team with the #2 pick in the draft is the Chicago Cubs. Forbes estimates their revenues at $274 million per year, and while Forbes’ estimates are almost certainly wrong, we don’t really care about the specific number as much as we do the relative distribution between franchises. That $274 million estimate ranks the Cubs #4 in all of baseball. By any definition of market size, revenue generation, or access to financial resources, the Cubs are a top tier MLB franchise. They pick second overall on Thursday.

Now, look at the #7 pick. The Boston Red Sox have a $336 million revenue estimate, second in baseball to only the Yankees. Again, by any kind of financial calculation you want to make, the Red Sox are a well off organization. They pick seventh, one spot ahead of the Kansas City Royals, who have estimated revenues almost exactly half of what Boston has access to.

We can keep going. The 11th pick belongs to the Mets, who have $232 million in estimated revenues. At #16, we have the Phillies, with $279 million in estimated revenues. The Dodgers ($245 million and owners with apparently no concern for the luxury tax) are picking 18th. The Tampa Bay Rays, the franchise with the lowest revenue estimate at $167 million, pick 21st. The A’s, who have the second lowest revenue estimate at $173 million, pick 24th.

That is, the Rays and Athletics do not pick in the 2013 draft until after Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles have made their selections. Major League Baseball has steadily been pushing both the cities of Tampa and Oakland to provide new publicly funded ballparks for these, noting that their ability to compete will be compromise without access to increased revenues. And yet, in the draft, Tampa and Oakland are picking behind five of the wealthiest franchises in the entire sport.

When the prevailing argument for the draft is that it is intended to help distribute talent to low revenue teams, it is tough to argue that the current model is well designed when the two lowest revenue teams are both picking at the back end of the first round, behind five of the financial behemoths that they apparently can’t compete with. And, because of the new bonus pool structure, the A’s and Rays actually have less money to spend in the 2013 draft than the Yankees, who have the seventh largest bonus pool of any team because of the two compensatory picks they got for losing Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano.

By bonus pool size, the Cubs are 2nd, the Yankees are 8th, the Mets are 10th, and the Red Sox are 12th. The Rays get basically the same overall amount to spend on their draft picks as the Rangers; the A’s get the same amount as the Phillies. If this is promoting competitive balance, then I’m the Prime Minster of England.

There’s no way around this simple fact: Tampa Bay and Oakland are being penalized for successfully building winning teams despite their disadvantages. The draft is taking away potential future value from those teams and redistributing it to the Cubs and Red Sox. That just doesn’t make any real sense.

Even if we accept that the league will never abolish the draft, so the basic structure of awarding players to teams in a sequential order is here to stay, we should at least consider changing the way in which those picks are distributed. MLB has already begun to hand out draft selections based on revenues with the competitive balance selections, and besides the selection that the Marlins traded away and now belongs to Detroit, you can see how those picks actually make some sense; extra selections were given to Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Miami. None of those teams were estimated to bring in more than $206 million in revenues.

If we can hand out extra picks based on team revenues in the name of competitive balance, why not hand out all picks based on a calculation that gets us to a similar point? MLB clearly has access to more and better information than Forbes, so they wouldn’t need to settle for just picking something as simple as a revenue estimate, but could develop a system that ensures that the lowest revenue clubs always pick near the top of the draft while the higher revenue clubs always pick near the bottom.

Maybe you base it on a rolling average over multiple years so that there is no incentive to reduce revenues to raise your spot in the draft order. Maybe you setup a system of tiers, where draft order can fluctuate based on winning percentage but teams have a net that they cannot escape. Or maybe you just eliminate compensation picks being tied to free agent signings and start giving the lowest revenue teams some picks of real value near the top of the first round.

There are a lot of different ways to modify the current system. What I do know is this: the Yankees don’t need to be compensated for losing free agents, and the Cubs don’t need to be compensated for being terrible. There’s no reason to punish Tampa Bay or Oakland for putting a winning team on the field, and the league shouldn’t be too interested in sending premium prospects to Boston and Chicago as rewards for wasting giant piles of cash. The sport has done a lot of work to promote parity and create a more level playing field than there has in the past, but on Thursday night, the first round of the draft is going to be a great example of why this particular system needs some upgrades.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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CONSTERNATIONNATION
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CONSTERNATIONNATION
3 years 2 months ago

Brilliant.

Jaack
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Jaack
3 years 2 months ago

Of course you aren’t the Prime Minister of the UK. You are this guy: http://senators.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=69876

Jonathan
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Jonathan
3 years 2 months ago

I have a bit of a bone to pick with the general premise of this article. Basically, the entire idea that teams should be rewarded for being incapable of generating revenue. While parity is nice and all, it cannot be achieved at the expense of the profitability of the league. Penalizing teams for being too good at making money is the exact same problem, except in reverse.

Steve
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Steve
3 years 2 months ago

Also, when the owner is a billionaire, and you are generating $167M a year, you can probably deal with not having the first pick EVERY year.

LaLoosh
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LaLoosh
3 years 2 months ago

yeah I don’t really get the premise either. the draft is supposed to reward the weaker teams, not the poorer ones. If having perennial success was just about money then the Cubs, Mets, Dodgers, and O’s would be regular playoff contenders but obviously those teams are more used to being doormats than annual contenders, so we know it’s a lot more complex than just financial resources. The entire draft doesn’t purport to fix the income inequality, I guess only the new competitive balance picks try to address that.

Steve
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Steve
3 years 2 months ago

You play to win the game.

Jay29
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Jay29
3 years 2 months ago

And you can’t expect To Win without The Will.

G_Funk_J
Member
G_Funk_J
3 years 2 months ago

You cant have it both ways, you cant say the A’s/Rays cant compete because of market size/revenues and then say they are being punished when they do have competitive teams. I agree it does seem silly for the Yankees to get compensatory picks for losing Swisher and Soriano, but it isnt silly because they are the Yankees, its just as silly that Tampa gets a pick for “losing” BJ Upton.

Kinanik
Member
Member
Kinanik
3 years 2 months ago

I agree that the system is imperfect, but I think you get a skewed vision by picking a single year — all the small sample size caveats should apply. Part of the reason that teams like the Rays and the Nationals are doing as well as they are is that they benefited from years of high draft picks.

The reason I don’t see MLB instituting any revenue dependent draft pick compensation is that it carries the same screwy incentives that are in place now to encourage marginal teams to lose–but instead of losing on the field, the incentive will be to boot some present revenue for future revenue. In terms of making baseball a successful business (the goal of the commissioner’s office and the players’ union), this seems bad. I could see something like a draft compensation system based on team payroll, but the players’ union would never go for anything like that, and rightly.

Basing draft slots on a three-year rolling team record would weaken the incentive for a team to boot a single year, while evening out fluke years. I think tying draft picks to anything other than on-the-field play introduces distortions that would be more damaging than the current system (though maybe eliminating the draft would be better?)

Letting teams trade all of their draft picks would help rebuilding teams–right now, a rebuilding team can only trade their veterans where there is a double coincidence of wants: the good team has to have prospects that match the organizational needs of the bad team. Letting teams trade their draft picks alleviates that problem, somewhat.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 2 months ago

Since you mention the Nationals, I almost forgot about this year’s draft because they have only one pick in the top 100 (their second pick is at #105). The Nationals have over $2 million to spend, but it’s hard to imagine anyone important emerging from this draft for them.

jwise224
Member
3 years 2 months ago

The delay in player development is another good reason to base selections on a period of years rather than a single season’s performance. Most college players take three or more years to become big-league ready and most high school players need five or more years to develop. The NFL can justify the draft order on previous year’s performance because the players drafted are ready to come in and turn a team around instantly. That is almost never the case with major league draftees as there’s an incredible lag time associated with player development.

Bob M
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Bob M
3 years 2 months ago

I’d also like to point out that the Brewers (read: small market) lost the #17 pick because they signed a free agent to a 3 year $33 million contract. The Angels (read: big market) lost the #22 pick because they signed a free agent to a 5 year $125 million contract.

The draft places a higher penalty on the Brewers than the Angels, despite revenue differences and the relative salaries agreed upon.

cthabeerman
Member
cthabeerman
3 years 2 months ago

I’m right here with you on this. Furthermore, it also puts more of a strain on teams thinking about retaining talent.

The franchises with big revenues can place a qualifying offer to guys that are worth 3/$30M because the extra $4M on a one-year deal isn’t going to hurt them at all. Conversely, the player is now not sought after on the market, and will likely end up taking less because his prospective team is paying for losing a pick to garner his services. But the player is still very likely going to take $15+M more in total guaranteed money over the uncertainty of a one-year deal.

A smaller market team can’t afford to pay a $10M player almost $15M, so he moves on to free agency without a qualifying offer attached. There’s no financial compensation for losing him. The poor get poorer, or risk paying more than they should for a player, and on a short deal at that. They simply delay the player’s inevitable departure, which is more likely to net them nothing than something in return as the years progress.

There’s a value limbo for players of this caliber and the only way an organization get claim a full return is by trading them away – but they better have a full year left on their contract, or the price drops.

Blech.

-C

Jason
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Jason
3 years 2 months ago

I get your point, and mostly agree, but how much did the Brewers save becuase Lohse was tied to draft pick compensation?

net/net MIL probably came out ahead when we look at what people expected Lohse to sign for. The savings over Lohse market value almost certainly exceeded the value that we would monetize for that spot in the draft. So I don’t think we need to feel bad for Mil here.

Simon
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Simon
3 years 2 months ago

The fact that the Brewers knew the cost of signing Lohse, that the draft pick resulted in them getting his services at a discount, and that, given all of that, they still chose to sign him, means that I can’t feel too much sympathy here.

NatsFan73
Member
NatsFan73
3 years 2 months ago

“When the prevailing argument for the draft is that it is intended to help distribute talent to low revenue teams…”

I though the prevailing argument for the draft is that it is intended to help distribute talent to less talented teams?

That being said, one year records are an imperfect proxy for an MLB club’s true talent level. Especially in a sport like baseball where it can take several years for drafted players to join the major league squad. Personally, I would use some sort of multi-year rolling average record to determine draft picks. That would do a better job of insulating against one year flukes, injury plagued disaster seasons, and the concept of tanking at the end of the year to earn draft placement.

Jaker
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Jaker
3 years 2 months ago

This succinctly sums up my thoughts as well. Dave is operating under the assumption that the draft is intended to help distribute talent to low revenue teams. I’ve never thought that to be the case. Like most sports, it’s about talent distribution.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
3 years 2 months ago

The rolling average seems like a good idea, and one-year records are indeed an imperfect talent proxy. Two points, however. First, one-year aberrations don’t make or break a farm system. Boston is not going to magically jump to the head of the talent class next year because they get a much earlier pick this year than they’re used to. It is the ability to draft and develop wisely on a sustained basis that makes a system good. Second, after the first (and to a much lesser extent, second) round, the payoff for drafting early in a round is reduced significantly. Order doesn’t matter much when the tenth round rolls around.

Consistent with point 1, it may be useful to look at what the order would be this year if a three-year rolling average was used:
1. Houston
2. Seattle
3. CHI Cubs
4. Pittsburgh
5. Kansas City
6. Cleveland
7. Colorado
8. Miami
9. Minnesota
10. Baltimore
11. NY Mets
12. San Diego
13. Toronto
14. Arizona
15. Cincinnati
16. Washington
17. Boston
18. LA Dodgers
19. Oakland
20. CHI White Sox
21. LA Angels
22. Milwaukee
23. St. Louis (tie — note: using most recent season as tiebreak)
24. Detroit (tie)
25. San Francisco
26. Atlanta
27. Tampa
28. Texas
29. Philadelphia
30. NY Yankees
Is that a “better” order than what we have? Maybe, maybe not, it’s in the eye of the beholder. But there aren’t many drastic changes.

Final note: Arguing that the system is broken because the Cubs and Bosox got high choices this year is like arguing that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax because my pipes froze last winter. The conclusion may or may not be valid (but probably is not), but it has very little to do with the “evidence.”

Jason B.
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Jason B.
3 years 2 months ago

“Final note: Arguing that the system is broken because the Cubs and Bosox got high choices this year is like arguing that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax because my pipes froze last winter. The conclusion may or may not be valid (but probably is not), but it has very little to do with the “evidence.””

Well said. As was noted earlier, the Rays and Nats are showing very direct and very real benefits of multiple high draft picks – Longoria, Price, Strasburg, Harper, etc.

It’s not a perfect relationship – Baltimore and Pittsburgh have continued to struggle over the last 15-20 years despite having many high first-round picks – but simply having the high picks is no guarantee of success. However it does afford greater opportunity to cash a winning lottery ticket.

MichaelD
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MichaelD
3 years 2 months ago

The rolling average helps with the one-year anomaly (Red Sox), but it actually exacerbates the feedback effect for a team that is going from good to bad or bad to good.

Imagine that the Brewers continue on the pace they are on and really need to go through a complete rebuilding. They can get started with a top 5 draft pick next year, again assuming they continue doing poorly. However, on a three-year rolling average, they would be averaging in two winning seasons and probably drafting in the middle. That would be fine except that the feedback effect is already a couple of years delayed. The prospects are not likely to help until 2016 at the earliest as it is, and more likely 2017 or 2018. Now you are adding a year or two for the draft position to actually get good.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
3 years 2 months ago

This is a fair point: the usual boom-and-bust cycles that we see with many if not most teams probably have an increase in their “period” of two or three years, because of the delayed feedback. However, I don’t think that those teams represent an MLB problem anyway, as long as they don’t become mired in the slough of despond and fail to emerge from the bust part of the cycle.

Personally, not only do I not subscribe to the contention that the draft is broken/unnecessary (apart possibly from unforeseen consequences of the spending limit instituted last year — real concerns about that), I don’t think it needs to be messed with at all, other than maybe repealing that cap. If the rolling average had been adopted going into this year’s draft, it would have had the following effects on the 2013 positions of their first selections:
1. Houston, no change
2. Seattle, up 10
3. Cubs, down 1
4. Pittsburgh, up 10 (excluding Appel compensation pick; if that one is included, up 5 instead)
5. Kansas City, up 3
6. Cleveland, down 1
7. Colorado, down 4
8. Miami, down 2
9. Minnesota, down 2
10. Baltimore, up 12(!)
11. Mets, unchanged
12. San Diego, up 1
13. Toronto, down 3
14. Arizona, up 1
15. Cincinnati, up 12(!)
16. Washington, up 52(!! — but remember that they don’t have a first-round pick this year, presumably there would be some similar feature of losing a pick due to FA signings, in which case their first pick would be at slot 55, only up 13)
17. Boston, down 10
18. Dodgers, no change
19. Oakland, up 5
20. White Sox, down 3
21. Angels, up 38 (same as for Washington, actual first pick would be nearly unchanged)
22. Milwaukee, up 32 (same as for Washington, actual first pick would be down 8 or so)
23. St. Louis, down 4
24. Detroit, down 4
25. San Francisco, unchanged
26. Atlanta, up 39 (same as for Washington, actual first pick would be nearly unchanged)
27. Tampa, down 6
28. Texas, down 5
29. Philadelphia, down 13(!)
30. Yankees, down 2

So Philadelphia is the only team that is arguably entering a sudden, cliff-like rebuilding phase that would be slowed by the rolling average, and Baltimore and Cincinnati are arguably on the up-slope and would benefit excessively — if one is willing to accept that Baltimore’s sudden improvement is real, which I’m not sure I am.

Jason
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Jason
3 years 2 months ago

Why not just use pythag record? Oh right, 1000 baseball writer’s heads would explode.

PillsburyFlowboy
Member
PillsburyFlowboy
3 years 2 months ago

The league would be best served by making the draft order a function of each team’s will to win

David
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David
3 years 2 months ago

What would TWTW be measured in?

Wins?

NatsFan73
Member
NatsFan73
3 years 2 months ago

The will to win is measured by Grit. Ecksteins Over Replacement Level, if you will.

Cockswainwright
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3 years 2 months ago

Willie Harris’ Over Replacement Level
(WHORL)

joser
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joser
3 years 2 months ago

Whatever Harold Reynolds says it’s measured in.

Steve
Member
Steve
3 years 2 months ago

Oakland won their division last year. Can you please explain to me why they should have a higher draft pick for being the best team in their division? Revenue doesn’t always = absolute success. Come onnnnnnn.

Bab
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Bab
3 years 2 months ago

The idea is that a rich bad team with high draft picks is still in the long run more competitive and benefits more from the high draft position than would a poor team. It is stopping short of developing salary cap proposals.

Mike
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Mike
3 years 2 months ago

It would be like Free Agency for the small market teams.

Charlie
Member
Charlie
3 years 2 months ago

There is a problem with this.

If we accept the nature of free agency is changing, and a paradigm shift towards buying arbitration and free agent years out of young players is under way, then the argument towards, essentially, penalizing teams with large annual revenues creates less parity.

If these large market teams are unable to draft premier talent, these same large market teams are going to be unable to sign premier talent consistently due to the aforementioned paradigm shift.

attgig
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attgig
3 years 2 months ago

The way all US professional sports leagues blackmails the cities that host their franchises is the root of the problem with the premise of your article. Your statement: “When the prevailing argument for the draft is that it is intended to help distribute talent to low revenue teams” is only relevant because of the way MLB tries to sell to these cities that they need new stadiums. A draft is supposed to help build parity in a league where it gives less successful teams a chance to succeed. The issue with the MLB draft (vs an NBA/NFL draft) is that in most cases, it takes years for the benefits to be realized in the major league level.

What really would help distribute talent over to low revenue teams more quickly than the current draft system would be
1) a salary cap
2) ability to trade draft picks
3) International draft

because (respectively)
1) That changes the landscape of free agency, and the ability of smaller markets to compete for premiere free agents.
2) By trading draft picks that may or may not help 3-5 years down the line for major league ready or near major league ready talent today would change how quickly a draft pick can help the major league club.
3) International talent can be scouted by franchises with their individual baseball team’s facilities in foreign countries. If the franchise has the capital to invest in numerous baseball clinic/schools in numerous countries, they can have a better chance at signing international talent. The posting system in Japan also gives an advantage to large market clubs who are able to “gamble” on $50+ million posting fees… $’s that I doubt any of those small market clubs had available to them.

the draft is the draft. I think there are a lot of other things to fix to have better competitive balance among various markets.

Matt Mosher
Member
Member
Matt Mosher
3 years 2 months ago

I have a hard time feeling bad for the Rays considering the boatload of compensation picks they get most years. They are taken care of just fine. The draft should stay the same other than making teams forfiet picks to sign free agents. That is ridiculous.

Zack
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Zack
3 years 2 months ago

Wouldn’t the Rays keep ending up with the pick then?

Bip
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Bip
3 years 2 months ago

Yeah, this is the big thing for me. The Rays would be unstoppable even if they weren’t managed (on field and in FO) as well as they are. Give a team the #1 overall pick 10 years in a row and then hand them the World Series title.

The majority of a team’s value is always going to come from developed talent. There just aren’t enough good free agents available for a rich team to truly buy their roster, and such roster will be short-lived given the age at which players reach free-agency anyway.

Mike
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Mike
3 years 2 months ago

I am a rays fan, it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee success. Look at the last 5 years for example.

Tim Beckham
Stephen Strasburg
Bryce Harper
Gerrit Cole
Carlos Correa

gryfyn1
Member
gryfyn1
3 years 2 months ago

“When the prevailing argument for the draft is that it is intended to help distribute talent to low revenue teams”

I disagree, Ive never know the primary draft to be for that purpose. Like the above poster said the Draft is mainly to distribute players to less talented teams and record is the only true objective way to measure this.

The competitive balance round is added to assist low rev teams, but Revenue isn’t the only thing that factors into balance. Now the MLB has contradicted themselves by claiming the slot caps are in place to help low rev teams, but no one truly believes that, as the slots were added to suppress the pay days to entry level players.

Don
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Don
3 years 2 months ago

This would be a great way to reward fans for not going to games or buying merchandise. Don’t cheer on your team and they’ll get a higher pick. A’s fans have it all figured out.

TiensyGohan
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TiensyGohan
3 years 2 months ago

That’s a great point. Too often we forget that the real reason some teams like As, Kansas City, or Tampa Bay can’t generate revenue is because their fans are lazy and cheap.

Mike
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Mike
3 years 2 months ago

Or things like Market size, tv deals, economy etc.

Bip
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Bip
3 years 2 months ago

As a Dodger fan, I’m more sympathetic to the argument that fans don’t deserve to be subjected to the sustained ineptitude of their front office, something they have no control over. Sports are played for fans’ enjoyment, and its not fair to fans when their team sucks and there’s nothing for them to do about it. That’s the real reason competitive balance matters.

If finding the most talented team (and by extension, team constructors) was important in an of itself, then rewarding incompetency would be counterproductive. However, sports are for entertainment, so rewarding incompetency doesn’t have real consequences, while forcing fans to suffer for the incompetency of their team’s management doesn’t help anyone.

TiensyGohan
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TiensyGohan
3 years 2 months ago

The Dodgers have been competitive for pretty much forever, including Ned Colletti’s tenure during which they have made the playoffs 4 of 10 times and had exactly one losing season.

tz
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tz
3 years 2 months ago

I’ve always felt it would be best in ANY of the major sports to have the first round draft picks go in the following order:

1. Best record among non-playoff teams
2. 2nd best record among non-playoff teams
..
n. Worst overall record
n+1. Worst record among playoff teams
n+2. 2nd worst record among playoff teams
..

with the final pick going to the best record overall.

Teams should have incentive to play out the season and not tank their spot in the standings. This is much fairer than rewarding continued mediocrity.

As for the revenue imbalances, it probably makes sense to address these issues more stringently via revenue sharing and/or a salary cap.

Jason B
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Jason B
3 years 2 months ago

Depending on the sport, I would often rather be the first team out than the last team in. In baseball there have been plenty of wild card champions and also a fair share of future HOF’ers and busts among #1 overall picks, so it would be a really interesting decision, probably more so than any other sport.

However in the NBA any team (or fan of said team) would prefer being the Utah Jazz this year rather than the LA Lakers. #1 overall pick over a likely first-round slaughter and a microscopic chance of winning the championship? Yes please!

LTG
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LTG
3 years 2 months ago

DC,

Some of your criticisms are quite good but at times, as other commenters have tried to point out, you conflate the draft’s purpose(s). The good criticisms show that the rules, supposedly set up to favor competitive balance, tend to hinder it. Thus, the placement of compensatory picks in front of competitive balance picks is a mistake, as is the way the pool of money is allotted.

But you have not yet shown that the general ordering of the draft is a mistake precisely because in order to express this criticism you have to conflate competitive balance (on-field performance) with revenue generation (off-field performance). Perhaps it is true that previous season’s record is not the best way to measure the competition-state of a franchise and, therefore, the draft should be ordered by a different measure. Perhaps, too, the draft should be exclusively aimed at funneling the best talent to low-revenue franchises. But you have not argued for the former nor the latter. And the latter is descriptively false. Moreover, ordering the draft by revenue generation seems to make possible an undesirable imbalance against high revenue teams who go through a period of mismanagement. So, why should we accept the criticism of the general draft ordering and not just the above two criticisms I mentioned above.

ASURay
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ASURay
3 years 2 months ago

The goal of Major League Baseball, as with most every organization, is sustainability in the form of being able to make money. To that end, the league will never, and should never institute a system that rewards reductions in revenue regardless of whether such reductions are actually possible.

Nick
Guest
Nick
3 years 2 months ago

Does Dave think if the Rays and As had 150m dollar payrolls they would never have bad years/periods? Does he think the Red Sox have a “bad front office”? The latter idea is quite rich given the history of this site’s Organizational Rankings. I don’t completely disagree with the article but this point you keep harping on is completely disingenuous.

What about poorly run low revenue teams? They’ll be rewarded too. Uh-oh, we’re rewarding bad management. Guess this idea’s no good!

Nick O
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Nick O
3 years 2 months ago

I think MLB’s priorities might be different than yours. MLB would prefer the larger markets do well to there being greater long-term parity. I’d have to imagine Bud is pretty happy about Washington (3rd biggest one-team market)having the success they’ve had with the help of two #1 picks, and they’re probably hopeful that Houston (2nd biggest one-team market) and Miami (5th biggest one-team market)are able to do the same. I’d certainly prefer that the Marlins not be rewarded for their behavior the past few years, but MLB probably sees the vitality of teams in Miami, Washington, and DC as important to the health of the league. I certainly doubt they want to see the top amateur players go to Oakland and Cleveland every year.

I think a more reasonable suggestion is that this be applied to revenue sharing rather than the draft. Teams in large TV markets like Houston have a huge leg up on the rest of the league, and I don’t see why their incompetence should mean the St. Louis Cardinals write them a check.

Jon L.
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Jon L.
3 years 2 months ago

Yeah, I agree. The league wants to make money. If bigger-market teams with greater revenue tend to perform better, it probably means more happy (money-spending) fans. Maintaining some degree of competitive balance is a goal, but rewarding teams for having savvy front-offices? I don’t see how the league benefits from rewarding small-market teams with savvy front offices. They’re rewarding themselves already, and that’s plenty good enough.

Grant
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Grant
3 years 2 months ago

One of your main criticisms is that the status quo rewards bad front office decisions. How would a high-revenue team make good front office decisions without having premium prospects available to them? For example, how do the Cubs get a trade chip like Andrew Cashner (19th overall) to acquire Anthony Rizzo? Sign high-priced free agents and flip them for prospects? Why would a low-revenue team do that when they have a guaranteed pipeline of premium young players coming through their system every year? Wouldn’t the Cubs be forced to do deals like the Soriano contract?

Eric R
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Eric R
3 years 2 months ago

” For example, how do the Cubs get a trade chip like Andrew Cashner (19th overall) to acquire Anthony Rizzo?”

How did the Red Sox get Anthony Rizzo…? Oh, by drafting him in the *6th* round…

MichaelD
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MichaelD
3 years 2 months ago

I’m not sure what Dave’s suggestion to a team in the Cubs’ situation would be. Everyone was saying that the Cubs could not spend their way out of the trouble they were in. So if they are not able to get decent draft choices how are they supposed to improve their team? How long would it take the generally considered to be smart management team they have now to put a good team on the field if they were not drafting in the top 20?

Even the high-value teams are still getting a considerable number of their wins from cost-controlled players.

MichaelD
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MichaelD
3 years 2 months ago

Sorry, this was supposed to be a new comment.

brad
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brad
3 years 2 months ago

How about poorer teams get bigger draft caps, but the slotting stays according to record?
Means the access to the top talent is still in theory equal, but the poorer teams get more of a chance to devote resources to development as opposed to the FA market.

Ryan
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Ryan
3 years 2 months ago

There is one HUGE problem Dave’s idea that I’m surprised no one has mentioned. If they were to implement it, the Rays and A’s would get the number 1 and 2 picks EVERY year! Can you imagine those playoff teams getting the top talents every year because they are poor? I’m pretty sure no matter how much money a team has, that wouldn’t be good for baseball. Also revenues for most teams are going to remain pretty consistent, therefore the draft would be almost the same order every year. That would make for a pretty boring event. Eventually it would make a rich team (like the Cubs now) have no chance at rebuilding because they can’t spend any of their money on the draft which is where good franchises are built. All they would be able to spend on is free agency and obviously we’ve seen that is not a good way to build a team.

TiensyGohan
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TiensyGohan
3 years 2 months ago

Everyone has mentioned your huge problem, including Dave Cameron himself. It is the premise of the article.

legendaryan
Member
legendaryan
3 years 2 months ago

Having the A’s and Ray’s be the number 1 and 2 picks is exactly the point. The draft incentive, whatever it may be, SHOULD be to encourage teams to spend less. No one is making the Yankees or Red Sox spend money. The goal for every MLB team should be to stretch their $’s. If the big (or even medium) spenders want to be near the top of the draft, then they need to decrease payroll.

Bab
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Bab
3 years 2 months ago

How about creating a formula that takes into account the number of wins a team has in a given season along with per-win revenue and payroll ratios? Draft slotting could be ordered according to those ratios, which would create incentive for cost efficient management and scouting as well as reward extra wins from postseason play.

I.e. if a rich team wins 70 games they will inevitably draw a low draft position.

Art
Guest
Art
3 years 2 months ago

“When the prevailing argument for the draft is that it is intended to help distribute talent to low revenue teams…”

HUH? Where do you get that crap? Did you just make it up? Why?

The draft is NOT intended as welfare to the low-revenue teams. NEVER WAS. MLB has revenue-sharing for that.

The purpose of the draft is distributing talent under a premise that is deemed “more equitable” than what was seen during the 20 years after WWII. That’s it — spread the talent.

Spread the BS all you want. You will certainly fool a lot of people into believing you have a clue.

CabreraDeath
Member
CabreraDeath
3 years 2 months ago

After a day of thinking about this post (and generally agreeing with it), I’m proud to announce that I just got the ‘Prime Minister of England’ joke.

Who says ‘nerds’ can’t be clever? Well played, Mr. Prime Minister.

mzvalaren
Guest
mzvalaren
3 years 2 months ago

I don’t know about this, man.

Look at the Mets. They are hamstrung by bad contracts, shitty owners, and a serious lack of cash. but, because they are somehow a high-revenue team, they should pick toward the end of the round? They haven’t been good in half a decade, have made the playoffs once this century (2000 was the last year of the twentieth century, please don’t argue that point), while the Rays have made the playoffs in, what, three of the last five years? Why, then, should the Rays be given high round picks? They had their high round picks at the beginning of the century, and they eventually used those to build a winner. They also found some pretty impressive front office executives that have drafted well since they started winning and kept them with a pipeline of major league players.

Conversely, the Mets have had nothing but problems. They had an awful front office in the beginning and middle of the last decade, and have only had a relatively cromulent one for the past three years. Regardless, the product on the field has consequently been horrid, and the money problems their supposedly rich owners have experienced kept them from signing even middling free agents. But, by your logic, the Mets should not be given high round draft picks to try to fix their situation, while the Rays should be allowed to become some sort of impoverished juggernaut that gets the best prospects in baseball annually and then lets them leave as free agents for richer teams to sign and regret.

In the end, there’s no way a revenue-based draft would work in a world where potential free agents are locked up years before they’d ever hit the market and only the question marks are ever afforded the opportunity to test the waters. Again using the poor, downtrodden Mets as an example, who exactly could they sign this winter to fix their myriad problems? If they can’t draft to rebuild their franchise, where are those building blocks coming from? I constantly rail against “fans” who find a “New York team” like the Mets being unable to spend as some sort of felony (as opposed to the result of a felony, which is more accurate), because being a New York team or a Boston team or an LA team doesn’t mean they are required to spend money. Only Scott Boras thinks that.

mike wants wins
Guest
mike wants wins
3 years 2 months ago

My solution to the draft problems: (all numbers would really need to be thought about)

Round 1: The 10 worst teams get $5MM to sign 1-2 players. complete FA among draft eligible players. The signing period lasts 1 week. If a team signed two players the prevous year in this round, they only get $1MM, and can only sign one player. that way, you are not totally rewarding bad teams.

Round 2: The 5 lowest revenue teams (three year average) get $1MM to sign 1 player, as above. This helps with the revenue issue, but does not greatly reward teams that have low revene.

Round 3: Regular draft, starting with the team with worst record that was not in the first 2 rounds, working through all those that did not participate in the first two rounds first, from worst to best, then from best to worst among those that did participate in rounds1-2.

Round 4-10: Regular draft like now.

Round 11+: free agents, cannot spend more than $xxxK per player.

mike wants wins
Guest
mike wants wins
3 years 2 months ago

Oh, and every player that has not yet been a FA, becomes one when turning 28 if they are not currently under contract.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 2 months ago

Sorry, but I simply don’t see it as a problem that the draft is based on prior-year record. Yes, the Mets have a bigger fanbase and more revenue than the Rays, but they’ve sucked for the last 4 years while the Rays have been playoff contenders. To me, it’s foolish to say that the Rays should always get a top draft pick because they have shitty fans, while the Mets should never get a top draft pick regardless of how bad they are on the field.

If the Mets get the 25th pick every year, the only way they can turn things around is to a) strike it rich with a bunch of lucky draft picks, or b) spend a fortune on free agents. ‘A’ would take a miracle – sure, there are stars drafted with the 25th pick (and later), but the odds of getting several stars there, year after year, is low. ‘B’ is what got them into trouble in the first place.

stan
Guest
stan
3 years 2 months ago

Even if you agree with the premise of this article, the author is cherry picking the data. He picked out the Mets, Cubs and BoSox out of the top (bottom) 11. However, that’s still only 3 out of 11 who are “big money” teams. The remaining teams at the top of the draft are clearly “small money” teams, which runs counter to the author’s theory. In fact, you have to go all the way down to #16 and the Phillies before you get to another big money team. Three out of 11 and 4 out of 16 seems like a very good result to me if the aim of the MLB draft is to give the small money teams who lose a first shot at elite talent.

Andrew Ritzmann
Guest
Andrew Ritzmann
3 years 2 months ago

Dave,

I’ve always appreciated your willingness to address difficult topics. Like many things in baseball, the purpose of the draft is less than clear. If the purpose is to ensure a more uniform distribution of talent among the major league ball clubs, then the ordering of picks must incorporate the current talent of the team and the ability of the team to sign talent (perhaps as measured by team revenue). As draft picks are unlikely to make a significant impact at the major league level for at least 1-2 seasons, it seems that teams with the worst records are receiving a delayed influx of talent. Add to this the fact that major league records can fluctuate significantly from season-to-season, and the fact of the matter is that a team may benefit greatly in the current system from either consciously choosing to lose or from a fluky bad luck season.

Since the lowest revenue teams must succeed by controlling the cost of talent by having a consistently replenished stock of young players (plus, possibly one or two “splurges” on homegrown talent who the team believes are worth paying large salaries). For large market teams, the ability to sign talented free agents is greater, but they frequently overpay for the declining years of the most talented players. In the end, it seems that a reasonable draft proposal aims to drive talented players into all major league organizations in such a way that no team benefits exceedingly from failure or is penalized excessively for success. In that case, the best solution to me seems to be a “lottery” system which adjusts each team’s chances at high picks according to their success and their ability (or tendency) to purchase proven major league talent. If these adjustments took into account a longer history (say 5 years), it would make teams less likely to tank for better draft position (since the marginal gain of each loss would be diminished). It also would allow teams to make infrequent free agent signings without large penalties while acknowledging that teams regularly purchasing major league talent on the open market require a lower influx of talent into their minor league systems. Using these weights (and I’m not sure how to fairly do so), the league could then use random chance to ensure that, over a significant period, the teams receive a fair and equitable influx of talent in accordance with both their historical success and their dependence on young talent.

I think that baseball took a step in the right direction by limiting each team’s signing bonus pool since it keeps players from setting demands far above their slot value that push them toward a large market team. At the same time, I want to see the draft order reflect the fact that all teams need the chance to obtain talent through the draft. The best way to ensure fairness over the long term is to incorporate an element of randomness into the process. It can be weighted in favor of the teams who require young talent (the unsuccessful and low revenue teams), but the lag associated with player development means that today’s failures are not instantly rewarded, but that the greater concern should be distributing the talent as fairly as possible. This argument also points out the need for an international draft since the point is the distribution of talent across all major league organizations (not just domestic talent).

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
3 years 2 months ago

Create an equation for it. Revenue along with a rolling record. Financially well off teams should never pick in the top 10. They can explore the FA market that the small market teams can’t. Think of it like taxes. Sales tax is harder on lower income (this is free agency) so our income tax is tiered to balance that. So maybe you’re divided I to thirds or quartiles and then assigned an order. So the bottom 10 teams in revenue are slotted based on record, then the middle third, then the top third.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 2 months ago

“They can explore the FA market that the small market teams can’t.”

False. Some can afford to sign more/better players and choose not to. Some simply don’t see the value proposition in offering 5/125 to Josh Hamilton. Some strategically decide not to devote a huge portion of revenues or payroll to a single (or very few) players and don’t want to be saddled with the burden and/or inflexibility of long-term, underproductive FA contracts given to players past their primes. Some consistently get better results from shorter, cheaper contracts offered to second and third tier FA’s.

Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 2 months ago

We’re thinking along the same lines. See my comment above.

Brian
Guest
Brian
3 years 2 months ago

I see the point, but the fans wouldn’t get past the headline if they actually did this. Imagine being a fan of a top 5 revenue team, and realizing that, no matter how much your GM @%$#s things up, you’ll never have a top 10 pick.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 2 months ago

Sorry but Mr. Cameron is flat-out wrong.

1. Over the last 45 years the Red Sox have received the seventh pick in the draft twice. In a third that time, the Rays have had the number one pick four times, a number two, a number three, two number fours, a six and an eight. I believe in redistribution to support competitive balance, but this is already borderline ridiculous, and you’re asking for more? (Note that the first pick is roughly twice as valuable as the second pick and three times as valuable as the third pick, and so on)

2. Second, baseball teams are businesses; making money is part of what they are supposed to do. If you want to devise a competitively fair system you should be considering market size and not revenue. Teams like the Red Sox and Cardinals have much larger revenue streams than one would expect given their actual market sizes (in part because these teams attempt to maximize wins rather than wins per dollar spent on payroll). Should they be penalized for this? On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Rays (whose strategy is to maximize wins per dollar of payroll rather than wins) earn a lot less revenue than one would expect given the size of their market. Should they be forever rewarded for under-performance?

Making money is part of what baseball teams are supposed to do. Genuinely small market teams like the Pirates, and A’s and Indians and Royals do deserve a helping hand. Large market, small revenue teams like the Rays and Astros do not.

TiensyGohan
Guest
TiensyGohan
3 years 2 months ago

Some teams are genuinely and severely handicapped in the making money part of what baseball teams are supposed to do. A baseball team because of its market can’t pack up and move to New York or LA.

Also, I would surmise that the Tampa Bay Rays don’t try to maximize wins per dollar because they don’t like winning or revenue, but rather because they have no choice.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 2 months ago

I acknowledged that some teams DO operate under real handicaps, and the system should be set up to help them. However the Rays don’t qualify. There are more people in Florida than in all of New England, and more people in Florida living closer to Tampa than any other ML city than in New England living closer to Boston than New York. While there are reasons the Rays can’t compete with the Red Sox in attendance, they should equal or surpass the TV revenues of the Red Sox.

The Rays’ four top picks on the draft hurts competitive balance more than the Red Sox picking seventh every twenty years. There are smaller market teams than Tampa that haven’t had the top pick.

Finally some of Tampa’s financial woes are IMO their own fault. In 2009, they traded Scott Kazmir while still a viable wild card contender. In 2011, they traded Matt Garza arguably costing themselves a deep playoff run. And this year’s version would look much better with Shields in the rotation and Davis in the bullpen. While these moves are all popular with the Sabermetric crowd, a continuous strategy of trading present for future wins is a questionable business approach.

I think there are reasons to question how well the Rays are run from a business perspective

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 2 months ago

All of those moves you mentioned were great moves, fans weren’t really turned off by those moves. Florida is full of transplants…you can’t compare it to New England.

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 2 months ago

Nearly 5 million people live in Boston Metro, 2.5 live in the Tampa Bay Area. Florida may have a high population but it is pretty spread out.

legendaryan
Member
legendaryan
3 years 2 months ago

Could we not simply just reward the teams that spend the least? Award teams a number of “claims” or “bids” related to their respective MLB salaries from the previous season.

-Teams could use multiple bids on single players.
-Number of bids a player receives and a scale set by MLB / MLBPA would determine signing price range.
-Teams with fewer bids could use all their bids on a handful of players in high demand, but would loose out in the number of players they’d be able to “draft” or “claim”

This would give teams an incentive to spend less on their MLB roster. Perhaps use $/Win spent. The lower the better.

Shlum
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Shlum
3 years 2 months ago

You will go down in history as a radical reformer

Matty B
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Matty B
3 years 2 months ago

Why do we need to make changes to the current formula? It seems the more often the league sticks their nose into “fixing” the draft they actually make it worse.

1) teams losing picks. Why does that even exist? Sure it penalizes the big name clubs, but it also penalizes the smaller clubs who are trying to make a push to move over the top.

2) Revenue compensation picks. The league decides a cut off as to where an acceptable revenue level is and punish any team that goes over it. Why are we giving extra picks to teams just because they have less of their own revenue and still take part in revenue sharing?

These two implementations are actually hurting competitive balance rather than creating it. They keep the order as is and only provide compensation picks if you lost a play, whom was offered the required qualifying offer.

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
3 years 2 months ago

Instead of your suggestion, why not change the way the draft pools are calculated? Perhaps you start with the base calculation dependent upon the slot value of each pick. Then you add some correction factor based on revenue. If the Yankees are 20% above average revenue, their draft pool would be decreased by that much. If the Rays are 20% below average revenue, their draft pool would be increased by that much.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 2 months ago

If I were God:

1) I would implement real revenue sharing. Each team would keep half its revenue, and the other half would be placed in a pool to be evenly distributed among all 30 teams. Sorry, but no one pays to watch the Yankees play intrasquad games.

2) Establish a minimum and maximum payroll based upon total revenue (just like the NFL). All bonuses over USD 100K would be included in the minimum/maximum payrolls. Bonuses under 100K would be excluded because (a) it takes real scouting skill to find a major leaguer for under 100K and (b) you could really reduce the talent level in the minor leagues if you didn’t (and in some places minor league ball is the only professional ball).

3) Eliminate the draft. If you have a salary cap and a reasonable level of revenue sharing you don’t need a draft except to allow incompetently run teams to compete.

In many ways, the real problem with the draft isn’t that occasionally a big market team gets a high draft pick. The problem is that many small market teams (think Oakland) never see a top pick, because the best picks have been monopolized by three teams: Tampa Bay, Washington, and now Houston. The truth is Tampa Bay receiving four number one picks in a decade and Washington lucking into the two best #1 picks in recent memory distorts competitive balance in baseball WAY more than the Red Sox ending up with the seventh pick once every other decade.

Mike
Guest
Mike
3 years 2 months ago

I hope that you are kidding. The Rays only hit on a couple of those top picks and I really don’t see what that has to do with competitive balance. The Rays are a great franchise because of their ability to develop starting pitching in the middle rounds, not the top picks.

XtreemIcon
Guest
XtreemIcon
3 years 2 months ago

It’s a novel idea and certainly good for debate, but I tend to think this will sort itself out soon enough. The new fad is signing young studs through their prime years early on, sometimes even before arbitration. In the next few years, the crop of free agents will all be 32-33 years old, in the downswing of their career and won’t demand the type of salaries that preclude the lower 80% of payrolls from making a bid.

In that case, the idea of funneling the top amateurs to the teams with the means to buy the best players already won’t hold water, because there will be much more balance in the ability to buy players, as the players for sale won’t necessarily be the best anymore.

Does that make sense?

David
Guest
David
3 years 2 months ago

It’s odd that you’d only choose this year to be upset with the “system” because it looks “off”. The new system is what it is and it’s in place to cap accelerated bonus demands similarly the way the NFL does things. Let’s wait 5 to 10 years before we start calling the abolishment of the draft.

Look, just because you get a Top 5 draft pick, are in the Forbes Top 5 in revenue, or Top 5 in salary doesn’t mean you’ll win a World Series every year or at all…i.e. Royals, Rays, Pirates, and Red Sox/Yankees/Rangers/Tigers. It’s about the development of talent, coaching, getting hot at the right time and a little luck. Year to year elements change and records change. A team can lose 95 games and come back the next year and win 95. That same team could be in a huge market with millions coming in with a bloated payroll…

Business is business but last time I looked baseball is a game that still has to be played.

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