First Pitch: A Needed Change For Baseball

When the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was announced, the changes to the draft were viewed as a big negative for small market teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates had taken advantage of the old draft system, spending more than any other team in their attempts of adding as many high upside guys as possible. The draft was one of the only areas where the Pirates could add impact talent — and more than their fair share — just by spending money.

There were some that suggested the changes to the draft were good. If the Pirates could spend $17 M in a draft, then what would happen if the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees decided to spend ridiculous amounts on the draft? The suggestion was that the Pirates would lose their advantage.

I disagree with this theory. First of all, the Pirates need the draft more than the Yankees. Every team needs to develop their own guys, even the Yankees. But we often view the Yankees and Red Sox — but mostly the Yankees — as teams with unlimited funds. It’s as if the only thing that’s stopping them from spending ridiculous amounts was that they just hadn’t thought about it yet. If the A.J. Burnett trade showed us anything, it’s that this wasn’t true. The Yankees salary dumped Burnett to the Pirates so that they could create space to add Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez. I never thought I would type that sentence.

If the Yankees had extra money to spend, where do you think they would spend it? They don’t need a Josh Bell in their farm system. They can wait for Josh Bell to arrive and succeed in the majors. Then they can sign him to a ridiculous deal. Or they can trade the top prospects they don’t need and get him before he’s eligible for free agency. It’s doubtful that the big market teams would focus on the draft as much as the Pirates. Free agency is built for big market teams. That’s why the Pirates had to spend in the draft. It would make no sense for the Yankees to take money away from free agency and shift it to the draft.

All of this is unlike the international market in baseball. International players weren’t subject to a draft. They were free agents, going to the highest bidder. The worst teams didn’t get the best players. And the Yankees could spend extra money, just like they could in the draft. But unlike the draft, the Yankees could spend money to get the two best players available, if they wanted.

That’s the thing about the draft. Even if other teams decide to spend like the Pirates, the Pirates still have exclusive negotiating rights with their players. They also get to pick based on where they finish in the standings.

From the looks of things, baseball will be adding an international draft soon. The changes to the CBA all but set up an international draft. Teams were given bonus pools that were proportionate to their place in the standings. The teams with the worst records get the biggest pools, and the teams with the best records get the smallest pools. The only thing missing is an actual draft, which would further ensure that the worst teams got the best players.

I’m no fan of the new changes to the draft. Baseball is broken at the top. There’s no salary cap, no salary floor, and revenue sharing isn’t fair. Taking away the Pirates’ ability to spend in the draft is basically taking away one of their only hopes for competing in a sport that caters to big market teams. While I don’t like the draft changes, I like that system better than the former international system, which basically amounts to a smaller scale of MLB free agency. And we already know who benefits from MLB free agency. So if that’s the way the international market is headed, then it’s a much needed change for baseball.

Links and Notes

**Baseball America has an interview with Bud Selig on the international draft, with Selig saying the draft is “inevitable”.

**Kristy Robinson’s feature today is on Evan Meek, who looks to bounce back from shoulder issues last year. The Pirates could really use a bounce back season from Meek this year. If he pitches more like his 2010 season, it might allow the team to deal Joel Hanrahan. Also, check out Kristy’s blog from Spring Training today.

**I’ll be driving down to Bradenton tomorrow, and will arrive Saturday afternoon. Wilbur Miller will also be down there this weekend, so expect a lot of coverage on the site.

**The 2012 Annual started shipping today. To celebrate the release, Matt Bandi held a live blog of the early 1990’s Pirates. You can check out the transcript here. Also, you can order your copy of the book on the products page.

**Count me as one of the people who always thought Josh Bell was going to sign. But Kevin Creagh looks in to recent statements by Greg Smith that suggest the signing wasn’t inevitable.

**The Pirates signed minor leaguer Kris Harvey. He’s had an interesting minor league career, although like most minor league signings the odds of him paying off are slim. I think the odds are slightly better for a hard throwing reliever, since the Pirates have a few success stories under their belt so far, with Chris Leroux being a recent example.


  • If you are going to give each team a fair chance to compete then you have to impliment a salary cap.  It’s been proven to work in other sports.  The only reason MLB doesn’t have one is because the Yankees and Red Sox of the league want the leg up not to to mention 230 mil contracts make nice headlines…

  • While I agree that until the ML system is fixed the Pirates will always be at a disadvantage, I’m still willing to give this new system a try.  It was done solely to limit Boras’s screwing of teams, IMHO.  And taking care of that is a good first step.