It's draft day, when we all get excited about players most of us have actually never seen play.
As you read all the draft coverage from Keith Law and others -- here are Keith's top 100 prospects -- I wanted to point to a couple columns discussing the draft itself that I found interesting.
Joe Sheehan is in favor of abolishing the draft. (Subscribe to Joe's excellent newsletter here). As Joe wrote, many fans believe doing so would just funnel the top prospect to the Yankees, Red Sox and other big-market teams. I agree with Joe that we don't necessarily know if this would be true. Here's what Joe wrote the other day:
The ability to use a massive revenue stream internationally hasn't been a huge advantage for the Yankees or any large-market team over the long term, so why would we expect it to be so domestically? Miguel Cabrera signed with the Marlins. Felix Hernandez signed with the Mariners, as did Shin-Soo Choo. The Reds nabbed Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman. The Twins have Miguel Sano. The Pirates have Luis Heredia.
Frankly, giving high-revenue teams more opportunities to make big mistakes seems like a good way to enhance competitive balance. Take a look at the top of some recent drafts and you'll find that being among the very best amateur players is no guarantee of success. Yes, maybe a Stephen Strasburg -- who has yet to qualify for an ERA crown, by the way -- or a Bryce Harper ends up with a large-market team more often. So will Dustin Ackley and Donovan Tate and Bubba Starling and Cristian Colon. Just being able to buy the highest-rated amateurs will be no guarantee of success. Making the right choices among those amateurs remains a skill. Player development remains a skill. Eliminating the draft will certainly allow for greater variety in player acquisition strategies, with teams shifting money from year to year from major-league budgets to amateur budgets as needs change. Teams could make big splashes in one year and then go cheap in the next.
But Joe could be wrong. Maybe this year the Yankees decide to spend $50 million to sign Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray and Kris Bryant, simply outbidding other teams, and all three could turn into All-Star players.
We simply don't know what would happen; as Joe also mentioned, perhaps the biggest long-term ramification of the current system that caps money spent on the draft is you could lose two-sport stars to other sports because of lower signing bonuses. That gets back to the draft's primary purpose, to limit signing bonuses. The draft began in 1965, not so much as an outrage over the Yankees winning all the time, but the fact that bonuses had escalated. In 1964, a college outfielder from Wisconsin named Rick Reichardt signed with the Angels for $200,000, more than the highest-paid players were receiving at the time. Owners weren't interested in helping the Kansas City A's; they wanted to limit the negotiating leverage for the Rick Reichardts. So in 1965, the "competitive balance" draft was initiated.
Even if that were the goal -- to funnel the best amateur players to help create more competitive balance -- does the draft really do that? Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote the other day that the draft doesn't necessarily help the small-market teams:
The Boston Red Sox have a $336 million revenue estimate, second in baseball to only the Yankees. Again, by any kind of financial calculation you want to make, the Red Sox are a well off organization. They pick seventh, one spot ahead of the Kansas City Royals, who have estimated revenues almost exactly half of what Boston has access to.
We can keep going. The 11th pick belongs to the Mets, who have $232 million in estimated revenues. At #16, we have the Phillies, with $279 million in estimated revenues. The Dodgers ($245 million and owners with apparently no concern for the luxury tax) are picking 18th. The Tampa Bay Rays, the franchise with the lowest revenue estimate at $167 million, pick 21st. The A’s, who have the second lowest revenue estimate at $173 million, pick 24th.
There was a contentious debate in the reader comments. Do you reward teams simply because they are unable to generate revenue? Do you reward tanking or make the draft order based on a three-year running record instead of one? (The Mariners, for example, would draft second instead of 12th.)
What do you think?