Holliday for Wallace makes perfect sense

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The Cardinals thought their offense was set when they acquired Mark
DeRosa from the Indians, but DeRosa injured his wrist and neither Chris
Duncan nor Rick Ankiel proved able to shake lingering injuries that
have left them unable to contribute offensively. Now the team has to
decide whether it’s worth mortgaging even more of the future to bring
in Matt Holliday from the Athletics.

The only return that makes sense for the A’s is 2008 first-round
pick Brett Wallace, a player Oakland passed over with the 12th
selection last year. They chose Jemile Weeks, Rickie’s younger brother,
instead, leaving Wallace for the Cardinals at No. 13.

The Wallace selection for St. Louis seemed awfully similar to
Milwaukee’s pick of Matt LaPorta the previous season. Even if the
player wasn’t a great fit for the team, picking the potent college bat
provided a great piece of trade bait. LaPorta, of course, was sent to
Cleveland for CC Sabathia last year. Now Wallace could go for another
superstar in his walk year.

The big factor that all of the teams are weighing these days is
draft picks. The Cardinals wouldn’t be desperate enough to give up six
years of Wallace for 2 1/2 months of Holliday straight up. But Wallace
for Holliday and two high draft picks? That’s likely worth doing.
Similarly, the A’s can’t settle for a prospect less than Wallace. Even
if they won’t have anything to play for in August and September, they
value the picks greatly.

Wallace is made expendable in St. Louis because of his glove. Most
projected him to move off third base in the pros, and while he’s still
playing the hot corner at the moment, he doesn’t have many convinced
that he’ll last at the position. Fortunately, he should possess the bat
to carry first. His .298/.351/.431 line in 61 games since being moved
up to Triple-A is hardly awe-inspiring, but it’s pretty good for
someone in his first pro season. He projects as a legitimate .300
hitter with 20-25 homer ability.

Holliday’s addition would give the Cardinals one of the game’s best lineups:

2B Skip Schumaker
3B Mark DeRosa
1B Albert Pujols
LF Matt Holliday
RF Ryan Ludwick
C Yadier Molina
CF Colby Rasmus
P
SS Brendan Ryan

The idea of using Troy Glaus as an outfielder would die, but he
probably wasn’t going to be an option as a regular anyway. He could be
the game’s scariest pinch-hitter come playoff time and maybe an
occasional option at third. Rick Ankiel, Khalil Greene and Julio Lugo
can join him on the game’s most expensive bench.

Since the price tag for Holliday doesn’t approach what the Jays
would want for Roy Halladay, I think he’s the right pickup for St.
Louis. It’d leave them talent left over to go get a reliever if they
desire, and they might even be able to talk Oakland into kicking in
some cash.

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.