Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The MLB Draft: I Wanna Do What The Other Kids Are Doing!

I love sports drafts. I find them an exciting way to disport myself during an off-season.

While some people see a bunch of kids in suits asking for a truckload of
money before they've even played one game, I see the potential for a different future. I think to myself that three years down the road, someone in this draft is going to change the balance of power in a sport.

At least that's how I feel about the NFL and NBA drafts.

Now baseball has seen what kind of events the other two sports have made of the draft so it decided to follow suit. There's one problem with that though:

The MLB Draft is much different than the NFL or NBA draft.

It's similar
in that the worst team picks first and the best team picks last. That part doesn't change, but the MLB Draft has some major issues standing in the way of it being interesting to watch:

1. The Draft is 30 Rounds:
Very few people watch past the first round of any draft, but while the NFL Draft is seven rounds and the NBA Draft is only two rounds, the MLB is just a marathon. And you never know what
round future All-Stars might come out of (pitchers are especially hard to gauge.) It just makes things less fun when you're trying to keep track of 30 rounds of incoming players.

2. Players co
me from different stages of life:
The NFL has
a huge advantage in that all of the eligible players spent time in a major college. Fans got to see them play on Saturdays and many tune into the draft just to see where their college hero will land. Baseball teams draft high school kids whom no one has really seen on a regular basis. This makes them less exciting.

3. Foreign players are signed as free-agents and not drafted:
All of the Japanese, Latino, and other ball players? Not draft eligible. This both hurts the draft and further widens the gap between big market and small market teams because incoming foreign players are basically free-agents to be bid on. Come on in Yankees!

4. Teams aren't allowed to trade:
How can you have a draft where teams aren't allowed to trade their picks? I know the prospect of trading draft picks in a 30 round draft sounds like a headache waiting to happen, but it gives teams a chance to build in different ways. Plus, if foreign players were ever made part of the draft, it would make things very interesting.

5. It takes baseball players years to get to the major leagues:
The NFL and NBA drafts are like sports Christmas. Teams pick out their new toy and we get to see what they can do immediately. Baseball players usually take years to develop the right skill set for the major leagues. So by the time the player is ready, fans who don't follow the minor leagues religiously have already forgotten about them.

6. The baseball
draft is completely convoluted:
Drafts are
usually pretty straight forward. If a team sucks, it picks early; the team with the best record picks last etc. If a team trades its draft picks to another team, then that team picks. It's all basic logic, except in baseball.

Baseball teams get different compensatory picks for when certain players leave the team as a free-agent. This system in itself is a whole pile of spreadsheets worth of work because you have to rank the free-agents leaving. Class A free agents are players who are considered to be in the top 20% of their position. A team that signs this type of free agent give its top draft pick to the former team, plus the former team receives a supplemental pick between rounds. There are class A and class B free agents who cost different types of draft picks. Clear as mud? Good, because there's another reason for teams to get a compensatory pick and that leads me to my next point....

7. Some d
raft picks don't even sign with the team that drafts them:
It drives every baseball fan crazy. Talented players drop in the draft because Scott Boras or someone similar is the agent. The team is worried that it may not be able to sign the draft pick
which just kills interest in the draft. You can't expect us to get excited about our team when it passes on the best player available strictly for financial reasons.

Other drafts have a slotting system that is basically a guide to how much a certain draft pick should get. A pitcher drafted in the top five is going to
make x amount of money. It makes things much easier One Yahoo baseball blogger summed it best when he wrote: "it beyond irks me that the absence of a slotting system opens our draft predictions to guesswork based on the amount of money a player and his agent are said to be requesting. Look, I'd like to make up a mock draft based on talent and team need, not how easy the player might be bamboozled. I don't want to memorize the agent of each and every player."

8. B
ud Selig has the charisma of a doorknob.
Sports
commissioners aren't expected to be wild and edgy, but Selig just kills me. He looks like a frumpy royal and speaks like he has just woken up from an anesthesia induced sleep. For a sports league that's considered old and resistant to change, this is not the man you want to be the face of it all.

The MLB has a lot to work on to make it's draft remotely interesting, but I must applaud the MLB network for doing it's best to make the first round of yesterday's draft sound almost like an interesting sports endeavor. Almost.

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