I was thinking about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the drive back from Wheeling to Columbus tonight, and it's probably time to write something here that officially backs away from the ledge a little bit. When the details of the new CBA started to leak, Pirates fans went nuts, in part because a lot of the new rules regarding the draft seemed directed at teams like the Pirates who have spent heavily in the draft. How can Major League Baseball and the union justify stifling small-market teams who spend in the draft when it won't do nearly enough to stop large-market teams from having major-league payrolls that are many times that of the Pirates? That's what people thought at the time, including me, to a degree. But now that we know a little bit more about what the rules actually will be, it's probably time to calm down a bit.
Now, I'm not arguing here that the new draft rules in the CBA are good for the Bucs. But I'm also not sure they're bad. Consider:
-P- I asked Frank Coonelly point-blank what the draft pool would be next year, when the Pirates pick eighth. He replied that, assuming the Pirates got two compensation picks (for Ryan Doumit and Derrek Lee), the Bucs would be around $10 million. I'm still not quite sure how the math works on that (I had thought it would be somewhat less), but if the Bucs are getting $10 million when they pick eighth, they can work with that. They can also spend five percent more than that without forfeiting draft picks, which means that assuming Coonelly is right, the draft pool would effectively be around $10.5 million.
-P- Jim Callis had a good article (subscribers only, unfortunately) on this a couple days ago. He points out that while the new draft rules will curb the Pirates' spending to a degree, it would curb the spending of a team like the Red Sox a whole lot more. In the past five years, the Red Sox have spent the fifth-most money in the draft, and given the Red Sox's position as one of the better, and richer, major-league teams over that period, that shouldn't happen. Unless the Red Sox suddenly start performing much worse at the major-league level, the new CBA ensures it won't happen again. The Red Sox spent about $11 million in 2011; I'm not sure what their draft pool will be in 2012, but it shouldn't be anywhere near $11 million, even though they'll get an extra pick with the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, and possibly another for Dan Wheeler. And it should definitely be a lot less than $11 million in 2013.
-P- The days of the Tampa Bay Rays picking eleventy billion times before the Pirates make their second pick are now over.
-P- The Bucs won't get to spend $17 million next year like they did in 2011. That's true. But the $17 million they spent in 2011 was never the norm anyway. That was an amount the Pirates spent because they were guessing, correctly, that the new CBA would dramatically change the draft rules, and so they deliberately broke with the implicit collusion that kept draft spending at a reasonable level. It's unlikely that a big-spending team like the Red Sox was happy that the Pirates paid$5 million in the second round, but tough luck for them - now that the rules have changed, the Pirates are protected from the possibility that the Sox will try to one-up them.
I don't think I've ever heard the Pirates say this outright, but there's little doubt in my mind that this is what they were thinking. For example, Coonelly said a couple weeks ago that because the new CBA rules governing Latin American spending don't kick in until July, they're having Rene Gayo try to find players who are eligible to sign before then and who might be deserving of enormous bonuses that the Pirates wouldn't be able to get away with once the new rules kick in. (The Pirates have determined that there aren't many such players out there, regrettably.) But that's exactly what I think they did with the draft. So a typical Coonelly/Huntington draft budget (and of course this depends, to a degree, on where the Pirates are picking and whether they have compensation picks) should be something like $10-12 million, not $17 million. They won't be able to get to $17 million again, but the only reason they did that last year is because they knew it was the one time they could get away with it.
-P- The new rules regarding Latin American spending will be very favorable to the Pirates if they don't dramatically improve at the big-league level.
-P- Beginning in 2013, there will also be a lottery for a handful of extra picks after both the first and second rounds. Those picks will go to losing teams and small-market teams. That's not a huge deal, but it's something.
-P- Of course, if the Pirates start winning, then the draft rules get more problematic for them. This might be the best argument against the idea that the new draft rules are good. There is little doubt in my mind that under the old rules, if the Pirates somehow had a 90-win season and had to pick 23rd in the first round of the draft, Huntington and Coonelly would have found a bunch of guys to give late-round bonuses to, and they would have ended up spending more than their fair share. Now, they won't be able to. If I were a fan of a winning small-market team like the Rays, I would hate the new rules, because they make it harder for a small-market team to sustain its winning ways - the lifeblood of teams like the Rays is the draft, and under the new CBA, the Rays won't be able to get as much out of the draft unless they start losing again. The Pirates, however, aren't a winning small-market team, so for now, the rules aren't as big of a problem.