Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"I Never Want the First Pick Again."

This is what Stan Kasten told to the assembled members of the Natmosphere on "Blogger Day." I don't want the Nationals to have the top pick either, because that means they're once again the worst team in baseball.

But at the time, the group was asking about the Strasburg contract negotiations, and the implication of Stan's remark was that he didn't want the top pick because he didn't want to deal with the top pick's contract demands. (Let me stress that this was implied, not explicitly stated, and I'm raising it as a jumping off point for the following discussion, not to jump on Stan.)

The emerging reality however is that the 2010 top pick may be the easiest #1 to sign in a decade or more. The reason is that the owners increasingly are making noise that one of their top priorities in the negotiation of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will be getting a hard cap on the bonuses paid to draftees under the First Year Player Draft (a.k.a. the "Rule 4 Draft").

Seeing that writing on the wall is what a lot of observers believe pushed the 16-year-old Bryce Harper to skip his senior year of high school, take the G.E.D., and enroll in junior college, thereby making himself eligible for the 2010 draft. If a new system is implemented with a hard cap or slotting system, any top pick--especially one as highly touted as Harper--is virtually guaranteed to get less money.

What that means for a team like the Nationals, currently 3.5 games "ahead" of the Royals in the Harper Sweepstakes, is that, should they get the top pick and draft Harper, they'll have a stronger negotiating hand than any team has had since the current system was created.

Currently, a drafted player had two choices: take what's offered, or go back into the draft next year. If you're Bryce Harper, the choice could be: take what's offered, or take the hard slot in 2011. The Nationals would only need to outbid the anticipated slot bonus, which could be set unilaterally by Bud Selig.

How likely is this to happen? Right now, it's pretty likely. Remember, the Player's Union doesn't represent amateurs. They represent current major leaguers. The only reason the Union has any say over the draft at all is because of the compensation picks for type A and B free agents. The compensation picks were first implemented in order to depress free agent values, and other than that the Union has no control and frankly no interest in how the draft works.

So if the owners offer the union a deal that eliminates compensation picks, the players almost surely will take it, and the owners will be left with a free hand to do whatever they want with the draft. It's possible that some aspiring lawyer would challenge a hard slotting system as illegal collusion, but aside from that, the owners could do whatever.

The owners don't want to give up those compensation picks. They'll first try to negotiate a deal that let's them have their cake and eat it too.

But if that's where things are heading, the Nationals could have the opportunity to draft Bryce Harper and sign him for peanuts. That's a negotiation that Stan Kasten would be more than happy to do.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Considering that this pick may be an easier sign than first anticipated, and that Harper is supposed to be the next baseball savior, would you favor tanking for rest of the season to try to "win" the first pick? Giving Livan a lot of innings seems like a good way to do that.

As a fan, I have mixed emotions. I hated watching last year's team rack up more than 100 losses, but can any of us honestly say that we would have preferred losing 99 games and not had the #1 pick this year?

Sasskuash said...

Anon- Dustin Ackley would not have been a bad "consolation prize." I personally did not enjoy every mistake the Nats made being put under the microscope as further evidence of the incompetence of the franchise. I understand this was deserved by the real incompetence of the FO, but I see it clearly enough without Keith Law and Jon Heyman taking cheap shots at every opportunity. Of course, this is perception is exacerbated by anything positive being completely ignored- like the strong showing of Jordan Zimmermann (pre-injury) and John Lannan and even the emergence of Josh Willingham was not as widely recognized as it would have been on another club. Since those things are not evidence of the incompetence of the FO, they cannot be commented on by Heyman et al.

I'm with StanK (though maybe for different reasons). I never want the first pick again because I never want to go through seasons like these again. Strasburg is great, Harper would be great, but after that...no thanks.

phil dunn said...

You make a good point regarding Harper and the Nats. However, it may be moot because the Nats are unlikely to finish below the Royals. Their once 11 game lead just a short time ago in the Harper sweepstakes has shrunk to 3.5. The Royals have thrown in the towel and the Nats are playing better.

John O'Connor said...

Given his "advisement" of Bryce Harper, I thought it was interesting during the Strasburg press conference that Boras corrected a questioner who said that #1 overall picks miss all the time, with Boras saying that the success rate of high school kids was hit or miss but that college kids almost always turned out.

I hope Rizzo was taking notes.

Section 222 said...

You've done a valuable service in trying to educate Nats fans about the current draft system. Too many people still don't get how unfair it is to amateur players getting ready to turn pro for the first time, and as you point out here, it's about to get worse. It's amazing to me how middle class and working class people take the side of the billionaire over a young kid trying to get a little bit rich off of his own skills and hard work, but that's America I guess. Keep doing what you're doing to try to counter the corporate spin spouted by the team ownership and their hired guns on MASN.

Grover said...

Section 222:

In some sense you are right that the system is ridiculously biased in favor of billionaires against talented, hardworking kids. However, there is another side to the argument that people forget about.

MLB, like every other business, is focused first and foremost, on putting a quality product out there for the consumer to enjoy. part of having a quality product is parity. The Yankees aren't gonna double or triple their ratings and ticket sales simply by making the playoffs again, but the Royals, Nationals, and the other bottomdwellers might. So it is baseball's best interest to creat parity one way or another.

Every other major professional sports league in this country has salary limitations in place in order to create parity and protect the product. The NBA has a salary cap AND slotted salaries for draftees. MLB does not have the former, so the latter, in some way shape or form, is the only means by which to create parity.

The system needs fixing, I agree. But to cast the debate as owners vs. players and say the public is siding with the billionaires isn't quite accurate. The public is siding with itself, in the sense that it wants the best possible product, and that means that EVERYONE has a reason to hope. Get rid of salary limitations in the Rule 4 draft, and the bottom ten franchises in terms of market size might as well fold up shop tomorrow.

Section 222 said...

@Grover -- Fair and well-argued point. But there's really no parity under this system, since the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Mets and Cubs can buy up free agents and teams like Pittsburgh are basically farm teams, who get to keep a good player for his first 4 or 5 years and that's it. If you're really concerned about parity, a revenue sharing system is what's needed, not unfairly holding down salaries. In other words, restrict the profits of the billionaires, not the players.

In the recent Strasburg signing case, those Nats fans who insisted that the Nats should walk away if Strasburg wouldn't sign for 15 or 20 million weren't siding with themselves at all. Clearly the team is better off now that Strasburg has signed with us. And one can hardly argue that the fans are better off because he settled for $15 miiion instead of $20 million. But many fans, egged on by management apologists like Dibble, acted like the Lerners' money was their own, and they were offended by Strasburg's and Boras's efforts to get as much as he could. That's what I don't get.

Steven said...

@Grover--I agree with a lot of what you're saying here, and my position is that the current system is probably worth keeping just the way it is because it's a big part of what's helped create the parity we have in the game today. I don't really think the draft is as broken as people think.

Here's the thing that bugs me though: the game is better because these young guys kind of get screwed. Why can't we just appreciate the young players? Why do fans and the media slam these players, who are getting less than they are worth?

We're making the game better on the backs of amateurs AND calling them greedy jerks. If everyone would just cut it out with the greedy jerks thing, I'd be fine.