The MLB playoffs are just around the corner, but before we all get caught up in the excitement of the pennant races, there’s one more important issue surrounding Major League Baseball that I think should be discussed: the MLB draft. As Grantland columnist Rany Jazayerli discussed in his column, “Abolish the MLB Draft!,” the MLB draft is fundamentally unfair and doesn’t reward the most talented players for their dedication and skill.
Think about it: Is it fair that a player who has worked his entire childhood to become the best at something can be told where to play for a few years in the minor leagues and then for six years in the majors before becoming a free agent? Imagine if you had worked your tail off to get the highest GPA and to be more prepared for your career than anyone else in your field, only to be told that you’ve been “drafted” to a company in a city that you didn’t choose. That’s what the draft is doing to baseball players, and that’s why it should be changed.
There needs to be a way to give players the ability to choose where to sign while still allowing for parity among all teams. The draft is effective for getting the best players to the worst teams, is evident by former number one overall picks Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg ending up here in Washington, D.C. But surely there has to be a way that permits the worst teams to improve the most while simultaneously ensuring that players have a say in the matter of where they play and live.
Therefore, as Jazayerli proposed, the MLB needs to assign each team a specific amount of money to spend during the draft period. The worst team this year — which will be the Houston Astros — would get the most money to spend, while the best team — likely the Boston Red Sox — would get the least. Each team would then be able to use its budget accordingly. If a team felt that there was a sure-fire future Mike Trout out there, it could spend close to its entire budget on that player. If a team needed a pitching boost in the farm system, it could spend a little bit on a bunch of lottery-ticket pitchers, since pitching prospects are similar to lottery tickets anyway.
The amount of money that each team would be able to spend would be roughly similar to the actual amount teams are already allowed to spend on their draft picks every year. Therefore, the owners would probably be OK with the deal because it wouldn’t hike their expenses, and the MLB Players Association should be fine with it as well because it gives more freedom to the players. The new system would better exemplify an employee’s rights in a capitalistic system and improve the overall product. Jazayerli’s best examples include Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy and Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, who were unwilling to sign with teams that wouldn’t let them use long toss — a hotly-debated training method for pitchers, where they throw balls back and forth at great distances, sometimes upwards of 300 feet — as a part of their training. Many players have been reluctant to sign with some teams because of a bad history with that organization’s trainers, farm system development abilities or city in general. With Jazayeri’s system, that problem would be gone because the players would be fully on board with the team with which they sign. Furthermore, it would benefit the smart teams the most, as it’s more difficult, but also more fascinating and potentially rewarding, to manage the new system rather than the old. I support just about anything that favors smart teams who put the most emphasis on winning, and most sports fans should support this, too.
Opponents to changing the draft may have problems with giving the professional athletes who are about to make millions more options; however, if there’s a way that gives potential employees more rights without hurting the overall product, why not do it? We have to remember that the biggest reason that potential prospects are top picks in the first place is that they have more natural talent and have worked harder at their craft than we did. The new system still wouldn’t be akin to the free market, because, if teams are capped, the players’ first contracts would realistically be capped, too. It doesn’t hike up player salaries too much but still improves the draft.
The MLB, more than any other American professional sports league, is the league that needs to try this. In the NFL, NBA and NHL, there is a great difference from the first pick to the 10th pick, and this difference in draft picks is necessary for the parity of those leagues. But, in baseball, the prospects are so similar that it’s not only worth a try, it would definitely improve the sport. Oh, and the MLB already has the exact same system in place for international signings. Why not bring the system to the states, where the majority of the talent is anyway?
Tom Hoff is a junior in the College. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.