MLB CBA: What Are The Best Ways Around The Draft Rules?

I'm reading over the new CBA and trying to think how I might approach it from various angles.

Obviously, it's bad for the Pirates. The new rules regarding international signings - in which teams like the Pirates eventually would have the right to spend a lot more money than teams like the Yankees - appear to be mostly favorable to the Bucs, and I think that, in our rush to condemn the draft rules, we've probably overlooked that.

The new draft rules, however, are bad. Teams would get what is essentially a cap (on their first 10 picks, and that cap would be based on their position in the draft (so a team picking at the beginning of the draft would get a higher cap than a team picking at the end). There are serious punishments for exceeding the aggregate bonus amount.

If I were a GM and I hated this rule, there might be a couple ways to circumvent it. Since the relevant figure here is an aggregate amount for the first 10 picks (and for any picks thereafter that cost more than $100,000), we could see teams do things like draft talented college seniors early on and then offer them insultingly small bonuses (like, say, $10,000). The idea is that they'd sign, and then the team could use the surplus to take a high school player with a strong college commitment in some other round. Teams wouldn't be able to round up enough money that way to sign a Josh Bell, but they might be able to get a Zack Von Rosenberg or a Nick Kingham. We've already seen the Royals try this tiny-bonus-for-college-seniors trick - they got Mike Aviles for $1,000 that way in 2003 after selecting him in the seventh round. Now there would be intense incentives to do it, well beyond simply saving money.

Another end-around, and this is the one that really scares me, is for teams to deliberately break the 'cap' and forfeit draft picks. The penalties for breaking the rules are severe, but they're different levels of severity for different teams. For example, if a team exceeds its draft pick pool money by more than 15 percent, it has to pay a tax of 100 percent of the excess, and it loses its first- and second-round picks.

Of course, the penalty for losing a first-round pick will be drastically different for different teams. The first overall pick is far more valuable than the 30th. So a team like the Pirates that usually picks near the top of the draft can't really say, "Ah, screw it," and drastically break the rules. (I'm sure Neal Huntington has already thought of this - this seems like something he'd love to do, if he could.) The Yankees, however, can. There's no good reason they can't just put out an APB to agents and say, "Hey, we intend to break the rules this year, so if you've got a Josh Bell, we'll pay him." They could do that year after year, too, with the knowledge that the most MLB could do is keep them from picking at the end of the first round. I'm hopeful that the Yankees and other large-market teams won't game the system that way, since the system is otherwise so favorable to them that it's not to their advantage to rock the boat. But as far as I can tell, it is possible.

In general, the CBA is going to force more talented high school students to go to college. It will keep the Pirates from dishing out money to players like Von Rosenberg, Kingham, Clay Holmes, Colton Cain, and so on. Obviously, it's a terrible deal for the Pirates in the short term. And the stupid little perks the Pirates are getting in exchange for being unable to draft those players - an extra pick at the end of the first round, maybe! - do little to make up for that.

In the long run, though, who knows? Bolton pointed out in the last thread that under the previous CBA, the Yankees and other big-market teams could have simply jacked up draft spending to the point that the Pirates were unable to compete there. They didn't really do it, probably in part because they usually picked at the end of the first round and probably also because, again, they didn't want to rock the boat too much. After all, the system worked very well for them. But they could have rocked the boat, and with the way draft spending was increasing over the past several years, maybe we would have reached that point. Maybe in the long run, these rules changes will end up protecting the Pirates, to a degree.

Of course, the new CBA makes clear that the Pirates are completely screwed. But they were also completely screwed before. Now they're simply screwed in a slightly different way.

UPDATE: McCutchenIsTheTruth brings up an important point in the comments, which is that we don't yet know exactly what the draft allotments will be for different teams. If the Astros are allowed to spend $11.5 million this year, as Danny Knobler suggests, while World Series teams can only spend $4.5 million, that might not be so bad for the Bucs, depending on how the pools in the middle work out. I guess we'll just have to see.

Of course, the only real way to take advantage of that radically different figure by signing Robbie Grossman or Zack Von Rosenberg types from the late rounds would be to offer at least one of your top picks a bonus that's well below MLB's recommendation, and I'm not sure how frequently we're going to see that. I also suspect that if the team with the top overall draft pick gets to spend $11.5 million, it'll be dramatically less for the team selecting second overall. A system in which the Pirates got to spend $9 million while picking eighth would really be toothless, and based on what we know about the rules so far, they pretty clearly seem directed at teams like the Pirates. Still, it might be fair to say that some of the freaking out over this might be a little premature.

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