Draft spending and the talent pool

Posted By on November 23, 2011 2:40 pm

I still keep hearing people claiming that the new CBA, as it relates to the draft and international markets, is going to be bad for baseball because it’s going to reduce the talent pool. It’s a very simplistic way to look at it.

MLB spends less money on amateur athletes, so MLB gets a worse pool of athletes.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. An athlete doesn’t just choose the sport he’s going to pursue the way a person picks the station where he’s going to get gas.

The reason that athletes ultimately choose to sign to play baseball is because … they want to play baseball. We all pick careers based on our interests and abilities, not on what can get us paid the most. Otherwise we’d have a society with no teachers and no sports writers. We’d all be Major League Baseball players. I know I would be.

Besides, the whole notion of athletes choosing a professional sport based on they money implies that they even have a choice. How many athletes have the talent to go play in the NFL or NBA if they don’t get the bonus they want from MLB? (While I’m at it, I don’t think the NBA, in its current state, has any claim to be more attractive than baseball, but that’s another topic.)

As I see it, MLB still holds a big chunk of leverage over players because it’s the only show in town if you want to play baseball. If there were even two professional baseball leagues of equal stature, then you could assert that the one that paid the lowest bonuses would get the worst players, but there aren’t. MLB has a monopoly. Scott Boras can rattle his saber all he wants, but in the end, every single one of his mega-talented clients wants to play in the majors, and if they don’t sign with the team that drafts them, they’re just going to have to deal with a different team the next year. (Draft guru Jim Callis himself tweeted today that he still thought guys like Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley would have signed to play baseball last year, even if they had to settle for smaller bonuses.)

Say you are a Bundy or one of the other two-sport stars that has a choice between signing with an MLB team or playing big-time college football or basketball. Baseball still has other things going for it:

1. Guaranteed contracts.

2. Longer average careers because…

3. You don’t get your head beaten in by 300-pound men.

4. Immediate, over-the-table, cash. If they’re paying you more than a token stipend to go to college, they are breaking the rules. Joke all you want about it, but the vast vast majority of college athletes aren’t getting paid.

5. No school. Again, you can joke that college athletes don’t really go to class, but ostensibly they are supposed to, and most of them really do lug around books and do papers. Baseball players? They major in baseball.

6. Money now, not in two or three years. If you turn down a bonus out of high school, you are gambling that the same money will be out there (from baseball or another sport) the next time you’ve got a shot at it.

7. Baseball. I’ll keep coming back to this, but there are people who just prefer playing baseball for all sorts of reasons, not to mention all those people who just aren’t good enough at any other sport to have a choice.

Much of this also applies to international talent. Everyone in the Dominican and Venezuela and Cuba wants to play in the Major Leagues, and they will do so no matter what the bonus is. They’ll try to hold out for all they can get, but in the end, MLB holds the leverage. You gonna go to Japan? Italy? Nope.

So I think there will be some grousing from folks about how players won’t get as much as they used to, but I think, in the vast majority of cases, the amateurs and international players are just going to suck it up and take what MLB can afford, because they won’t have a choice.

And even if baseball does miss out on one or two players a year, do you think we’re going to notice? Most prospects, no matter how great they look at amateurs, amount to nothing, so if you take one or two of them out of the pool, it’s not likely you’re going to notice any sort of shift in the talent level on the field in the majors.

Still, I’d have preferred to see a true hard cap or hard slotting on the draft, so there was no room whatsoever for negotiation or manipulation. But a semi-hard cap is good if it decreases the overall amount spent on players who have proven nothing, allowing the poor teams to get an equal crack at the best talent, is a good thing.

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