MLB.com's article on slotting of draft picks is a propaganda piece

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Thumbnail image for stephen strasburg jersey.jpgSo far, MLB.com’s “Fixing the Draft” series has been just fine. It dealt with the issues of an international draft and trading picks fairly straight up, presenting the pros and cons as most people understand them.  Today’s entry, however — on the potential imposition of a hard slotting system for draft picks — is a propaganda piece, the sort of which many of us feared we’d see a lot of when MLB.com launched, but which has been more or less absent. This one, however, is a piece of journalistic malpractice.

At the outset, lets make sure we all know what we’re talking about here. “Slotting” refers to the practice — non-biding at present — in which a team pays a drafted player a bonus on
where he’s taken in the Draft. Currently, MLB makes suggestions as to what the picks should get. Some teams heed the suggestions, some do
not. There really is no penalty for exceeding slot except for drawing the ire of Bud Selig. There is anecdotal evidence that MLB punishes teams who exceed slot, but no one is really sure.

The owners — and most people who watch, but don’t really understand the draft — would like to institute “hard slotting,” which would impose NBA-style mandatory bonuses for each pick. The negotiation process would be over: you get picked first, you $X, and if you don’t like it you can go play for the St. Paul Saints.  Personally, I disagree with hard slotting because I’m a fan of the free market and don’t see why billionaire owners need to impose such a beast when, in an average year, each team pays a total of $6 million — Pudge Rodriguez money — to its entire slate of draft picks. But that’s a big topic, so let’s save my ranting on that for another day.

Today, let’s ask this: why was no one from the Players Association quoted for this article? This would seem to be pretty critical, because just two weeks ago, the new head of the Players Association — in response to my question, I must egotistically add — revealed for the first time that the union considers the term “hard slotting” to be synonymous with “salary cap,” and we all know how the union feels about salary caps. It fights them. To the death. And no matter what conciliatory things Mike Weiner might say about everything being on the table come 2011, you can bet your bippy that nothing the union refers to as a “salary cap” will be negotiable.

You’d think that little fact would be relevant to today’s article. I mean, how can the pros and cons of hard slotting be complete when one of the cons is that implementing it would foment an ugly labor battle that risks a work stoppage?

Without the players’ hard opposition to hard slotting, the article serves as mere owner propaganda. Propaganda, I’m going to guess, that will have the effect of making the union’s eventual active opposition to hard slotting seem more unreasonable and unexpected than it really is (“But this has been discussed for years, why are you just complaining now . . . “)

Bad form, MLB.com.  Talk to Mike Weiner. Ask him what he thinks of hard slotting and re-run the calculus.    

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.