Is draft nepotism really a big deal?

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I hate nepotism. I’d probably still hate nepotism even if I ever had a relative who could do me a favor, which I didn’t (damn). I’d probably still hate nepotism even if my first job in the law hadn’t been working for a guy who hired his son a couple of years later and treated him like a full partner while I reviewed documents all day.

Nepotism is bad for institutions because it favors relationships over competence. Or, when the relative just happens to be competent anyway — which does happen, you know, because not all nephews and favored sons are simpletons — it’s not fair for the relative because no one else will ever believe they earned what they got.  And of course, nepotism is totally depressing for non-nepotees.

The subject of nepotism has come up in connection with the baseball draft for years, as teams have frequently drafted sons and — in at least one case a daughter — of team executives and dignitaries. It happened this year, with a couple of teams drafting sons of favorite sons and, depending on who you believe, the White Sox’ not drafting Ozney Guillen bent Ozzie Guillen’s nose out of shape.

Against this backdrop, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes the following:

Baseball teams routinely draft their favorite sons with throwaway picks, and that’s a problem Commissioner Bud Selig can’t ignore before next year’s Nepotism Seminar reconvenes … To make everybody more comfortable, the league needs to impose late-round restrictions and shorten the draft — and not just to save the Guillens from acting like the baseball Kardashians every June. Tweaks in the rules also would ease the burden of baseball executives who likely feel pressure they never will acknowledge publicly to draft sons or nephews or buddies on the final day.

My above-stated stand on nepotism notwithstanding, this is silly. This is certainly a problem Bud Selig can ignore. It’s almost the perfect definition of that which is ignorable. “To make everybody more comfortable” is the standard for new rules now?  If that’s the case, boy howdy, do I have a list of demands, because I know from comfort.

Baseball teams can and should draft whoever they want. I’d love if the Braves took me in the 49th round next year simply so I could say I was unhappy with my bonus and decided to go to junior college.  I hope the Rangers find some long lost relative of Mickey Rivers and pick him on day three.  There are a zillion rounds and a zillion non-draftee signings after that with which teams can stock their system.  If a team executive wants to burn a pick on junior simply so he can have some inside joke/memento to share with relatives next Christmas, who are we to judge?  Well, we can judge, but why should we care?

Let ’em draft who they want to draft. If the organization is so dysfunctional that a pick or a non-pick is going to upset team morale, there are likely other, much bigger problems swirling around the front office. If a team is drafting poorly with its legitimate picks, the GM is going to be out of a job soon enough anyway. As long as the guy isn’t picking his sister’s kid while leaving a solid middle infielder with good on-base ability on the draft board, I can’t think of anything I care less about.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment ‘egregious case of service time manipulation’

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Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.