For example, based on the rankings submitted to MLB, Joey Smith is ranked as the fifth best player available. Players one through four are widely agreed to be the best of the draft class and sign with teams one through four. Team five isn't especially enamored with Joey Smith, instead preferring Michael Jones, who is ranked as the seventh best prospect. Team Five signs Michael Jones instead. Now, as Pinto writes, one of the pluses of his proposal is that "players can't fall that far through the draft. The five best players sign with the five worst teams or [they] are out of a job for three years. The World Champions would not have access to the best 25 players in the draft." How is it fair to either Joey Smith or Team Five to have this rule in place? Either Smith doesn't get to sign--at all--or Team Five is forced to accept a player that they deem a lesser prospect. Would teams one through five have another shot at signing Joey Smith in Round 2?
While difficult in football or basketball, ranking prospects in baseball is an especially dicey proposition. Teams often can't agree which position a player should play (see: Markakis, Nick), much less where that player should go in the draft. Different organizations value high school and college players and pitching and position players differently. Using the example above, even the top five or ten players can be viewed differently by a small group of teams. After you move past the first 25 or 50 players, it's quite possible that a team will not have an opportunity to negotiate with a player that they would take in a draft scenario. For instance, assuming I'm reading Pinto's proposal correctly, team fifteen would be precluded from negotiating with prospect number 86, even if under a draft scenario, they would have used the 75th pick on this player.
While I definitely agree with Pinto that the draft isn't really accomplishing what it was intended to do, I'm not sure his proposal is the way to fix it. So what could be done? A few suggestions...
- Allow teams to trade draft picks. If the Kansas City Royals are picking third but know that they don't value the consensus top three prospects as highly as the teams picking slightly lower, why should the Royals be forced to forego the extra value that the market assigns to their third pick? Shouldn't the Washington Nationals have the opportunity to trade the 9th pick in the draft and a 4th round choice to the Royals for the right to pick third? The Nationals would get their man and the Royals would get theirs plus a bonus selection.
- Make all players in the world free agents and allot a "bonus cap" to teams--benchmarked for salary inflation and tied to the league-wide revenues--and allow each team to spend its cap however it sees fit. Perhaps a team would rather sign the top two prospects for 90% of their budget than sign five top-100 prospects or fifteen top-200 prospects for the same dollar amount. A premium would be placed on an organization's ability to identify talent and would create numerous opportunities for management to creatively allocate its bonus budget. However, given the issues with the bonus skimming scandals in Latin America, this system is probably not palatable.
Whatever the ultimate solution, it will require a great deal of creative thinking on the part of Major League Baseball, something which is all too often in short supply. But thanks to David Pinto for getting the discussion started.