Let's spend a week talking about revamping the draft

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The biggest item on the table when the Collective Bargaining Agreement is renegotiated at the end of 2011 will be the amateur draft.  And it’s not just one item, really, it’s a handful of them, including (a) internationalizing the draft; (b) instituting “hard slotting” for bonuses; and (c) allowing the trading of draft picks, among other things. Today MLB.com begins a week-long series on the draft, beginning with taking it international.

The league typically cites a litany of problems when arguing in favor of the international draft, including concerns of age fraud, exploitation of the players by buscones, rampant corruption and overall cost. I’ve written at length on these issues before, and the chief thing to take away from it is that when it comes to talking about an international draft, the league tries to conflate all of these issues into one giant problem that is inherent in international free agency when, in fact, they are many separate issues, most of which could be solved without the institution of an international draft.

The worst of the corruption has come from team employees, not anyone in foreign countries, and if teams would police their own better, we wouldn’t have the bonus skimming scandals we’ve seen.

Fighting fraud isn’t made any easier with a draft. As it stands now, teams have to figure out how old a given player is. Under a draft the league would have to do it.  It’s not like the problem goes away.

As for the money, imposing cost controls are totally within the team’s power now. They are free to negotiate with the players as they see fit. No one is forcing them to give millions to a sixteen year-old, they just don’t have the discipline to do due diligence and hold the line on these things. And really, these allegedly huge bonuses are not as big a problem as the league makes them out to be.  The entire league pays around $50 million a year in international signing bonuses. That’s $1.66 million per team.  That’s way less than teams pay out to American draftees, and in a world where teams think that guys like Jason Kendall and Pudge Rodriguez are worth way more than that for a single year, it’s rounding error.

So if the costs aren’t that great, and the problems with international free agency fixable, why the push for an international draft?  I think it’s ideological more than anything else. The league has an overriding aversion to free agency of any kind, and if they can partially stamp it out, they will. With a little work, they can stamp it out in Latin America and other places, so why not give it a whirl?

Not that it will be easy. For it to work, the countries involved have to sign off.  You think the Domincan Republic is going to agree to a system that (a) limits its citizens options in the marketplace; (b) lowers the incentives for teams to invest in training academies and scouting trips within the country; and (c) puts a bunch of its own people out of work (buscones are part of the economy, you know)?  And even if the Dominican Republic does, what makes you think Hugo Chavez will sign off on the plans of the American Imperialists?

The international draft is an interesting topic. But it’s not as necessary, and certainly not as easy, as its proponents usually care to admit.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.