An MLB draft rant

Good game. Good game. Good game. Good game. - Andy Marlin

That is, a rant about the MLB Draft, not an unfinished rant. Though you could argue for that option too, I suppose.

I have a rant that's been brewing with no good outlet. As many of you know, I have been pretty focused on the Draft of late and actually working through my own Mock. The top 3 picks are easy (Rodon, Kolek, Aiken in some order). With the injury this past week to Jeff Hoffman and knowing he's now undergoing Tommy John, the 4th pick (previosuly a near certain selection of Hoffmann) is now muddy as hell. The Cubs badly need Pitching and during their time with the Red Sox, the current Cubs braintrust rarely took High School Pitchers in Round 1, preferring the greater certainty of a polished College arm. The problem is Beede would be a reach at 4 now with his struggles, and there isn't another College arm clearly worth the #4 pick. That said, Alex Jackson is there, as is Nick Gordon and several top prep arms. If this was the NFL Draft, the Cubs would simply trade their pick to a team with multiple First Rounders like the Cards or Blue Jays, then with the lower picks the Cubs could take the best of Nola, Finnegan, Newcombe or Freeland. With the second First Rounder picked up the Cubs would be free to take a chance on an injured Pitcher like Hoffmann or Fedde.

This, however, isn't the NFL. MLB is a league stuck in the past with antiquated rules, no longer neccesary to protect small market clubs. Prior to the Draft, big market teams sometimes used their small market bretheren as farm teams, asking those teams to sign players the richer team paid for then working out a trade when the player was ready for the Majors. To combat this, MLB insituted the Draft in the mid-60's. To prevent big market clubs from strong arming their smaller competitors again, pick trading was illegal (lest a small market team simply trade a pick to the Yankees for compensation, for example). In the 1990's this still seemed necessary to some. Players began to get picked based as much on their signability as their actual talent.

Oddly this practice helped reinforce the image that the draft was a crapshoot where a top pick like Matt Bush could flame out, while a 7th pick like Clayton Kershaw could win multiple Cy Youngs. Certainly there is some crapshoot to the Draft. Injuries happen, behavioral issues crop up when guys suddenly gets lots of money and free time and flaws turn out to be harder to fix than expected. All that said, it's not 1964 anymore. It's not even 2004 anymore. With the advent of revenue sharing and mega-media contracts, teams have plenty of money to spend on draftees. On top of that, young stars are a hotly sought after commodity, thanks to the salary structure for years a player is under team control. Beyond that MLB now has a slotting structure with stiff penalties for overpaying prospects. What JD Drew did in 1997 is now impossible. For any player drafted now, he and his agent know exactly how much they can ask for. Maybe they can exceed the target by a few thousand dollars, but there's not much room to negotiate anymore.

Once a player is picked, you now have that player in your system for the better part of a decade if you want him. I doubt the Angels or Nationals are complaining about what they had to pay Trout, Harper or Strasburg when compared against what they had to pay Wells, Dunn and Edwin Jackson for less production. Modern teams are built on young talent. The fact that trades remain forbidden only hurts small market clubs like the Marlins and Cubs. Draft pick trades could be another tool used to build talent and future contenders at a cost small market teams can afford.

On top of all that MLB is clearly trying to build the brand that is their draft by televising it, interviewing picks, doing mock drafts, etc.. Include trades. I watched every minute of the NFL Draft last weekend (I'm weird like this, I'll also watch the entire NBA Draft, most likely, and I don't even follow basketball) and one of the most exciting parts is the trades. "The Browns traded with the Bills? Who are the Bills taking? What are the possibilities? Are they taking Watkins to pair with Manuel? What did they give up? Was that worth it?etc." MLB misses this boat by living in 1964 when robber barons still strong armed small teams and players got sold for cash and Free Agency did not exist.

It's 2014, Bud, come join us here.

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