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SBD/Issue 178/Leagues & Governing Bodies
MLB Draft Gains Popularity, But Slot System Still An Issue
Published June 5, 2008
WHERE'S THE COVERAGE? In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell wrote MLB with the TV coverage on ESPN2 is "shining a spotlight on its future stars and at least trying to catch up to the rest of the multimedia sports crowd." And while ESPN2 will not cover the entire draft, it is a "good start." Burwell: "I never quite understood why baseball didn't see the beauty in all the hype that goes with these drafts." College baseball's "small world has expanded." Between ESPN and FSN, college baseball is "all over cable TV now," as ESPN is "broadcasting so many NCAA Tournament games." Burwell: "I see a future where ESPN baseball draftnik Keith Law and his buzz cut will become as famous as Mel Kiper and his pompadour" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 6/3). ESPN's Karl Ravech: "This has become a must-watch event" ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN, 6/4).
STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE: In South Carolina, Steve Wiseman wrote the MLB Draft "remains light years from matching what [the NFL and NBA] have going," but the Internet is "helping MLB play catch up" (Columbia STATE, 6/1). In DC, Ben Goessling wrote the "scrutiny over the draft has a long way to go before it approaches that of the NFL or NBA." But "longtime scouts can see it heading in that direction," and Goessling noted "part of that is because teams are beginning to see the draft as the only cost-effective way to compete" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 6/3). ESPN's Law wrote there is a "chance that allowing the trading of picks will also increase fan interest in the amateur draft." The possibility of "draft-day trades, or trades the night before -- perhaps involving big-league players -- would also create more headlines and buzz around the draft" (ESPN.com, 6/3).
PLAYING THE SLOTS: In Pittsburgh, Rob Biertempfel wrote the draft's slot system, which "assigns a suggested" bonus amount for each pick, "like the draft itself, exists to save teams money." It has "little to do with competitive balance," and because the slot figure is "merely a suggestion, not a mandate, the system's legality has never been challenged." Law: "Now you're seeing more teams refusing to go along (with the slot system). They realize it may be in their collective interest, but not in their individual interest" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 6/1). MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations Rob Manfred said the slot system "has been helpful in maintaining the original purpose of the draft, that the weakest teams get the best players. In aggregate terms, the slotting system has worked well. But we had a number of high-profile players who were looking for dollars above slot who fell to teams that should not be getting a shot at that talent." In Dallas, Evan Grant writes MLB would "rather see the bonuses start higher and go down consistently than to have spikes along the way indicating teams passed on top talent over signability issues only to have other clubs pay the price" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 6/5). In Philadelphia, Paul Hagen writes "in theory," the MLB teams "with the poorest records get to take the best prospects. ... Except that it doesn't work that way. Hasn't for years. The reality is that some teams ... routinely beat the system" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 6/5). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes under the header, "Baseball Draft Is Broken, But No One Can Agree On How To Fix It." The draft is "closer to the wild west of amateur players asking for the world" (K.C. STAR, 6/5).
THE BORAS EFFECT: The DALLAS MORNING NEWS' Grant notes during last year's draft, two "high-profile pitchers advised" by agent Scott Boras -- Rick Porcello and Andrew Brackman -- "slid to the bottom of the first round." Manfred: "Scott Boras has a job to do for his clients, and I have a job to do for our clubs. If I do my job correctly, the draft will function so the weakest teams get the best players. If I do my job well, we won't have a (Porcello) type of problem" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 6/5). SI.com's Jon Heyman wrote there are "said to be a couple teams that won't touch a Boras player, though no one admits to purposely avoiding his clients." MLB before last year's draft instituted a rules change "aimed at keeping signing bonuses for amateurs at reasonable rates, or even scaling them back." But by "most accounts those brush backs have thus far missed their intended target," as Boras last year "remained unscathed" by the slotting system. Boras "often wonders why increases in amateur bonuses haven't kept pace with revenues approaching $7[B] and [MLB] salaries skyrocketing." But Manfred said, "Given the risk associated with amateur draft choices, I think it would be extremely unlikely if the bonuses grew at the same rate as revenues and player salaries. So few of these players actually pan out" (SI.com, 6/4).
Pirates' Coonelly Plans To Pick Best Player
Regardless Of Representation, Bonus Amount
UPPING THE ANTE: In Newark, Dan Graziano writes high-revenue teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers "have decided the draft is a nicer place to spend their money than the free-agent market." The Mets, however, are "one of the high-revenue teams that have not adopted this philosophy, mainly because the team's ownership has preferred to stick to the slotting system." But since the Mets this year have three of the top 33 picks in the draft, GM Omar Minaya yesterday said that the team "might be willing to cough up the cash if they find a player they like" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 6/5). SI.com's Heyman noted the Yankees in recent drafts have "become the most frequent Boras draft partner, leading to criticism from competitors." One MLB GM said, "There are later rounds where everyone's paying 70 grand and the Yankees give a kid half a million" (SI.com, 6/4). But in Boston, Gordon Edes writes the draft is "still one place in the game where having the most money, while still an advantage, does not guarantee success, that hard work and innovation and passion and a smarter way of evaluating talent can still make a difference" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/5).
HONORING LEGENDS: SI.com's Heyman in a separate piece reported MLB today prior to the draft will "stage a draft of living, former Negro League players." The 30 players who "will be 'drafted' have already been assigned to each of the 30 teams." Heyman wrote the gesture is "about recognizing the on-field achievements and historical relevance of 30 mostly forgotten Negro Leaguer stars." The players who are "in good enough health" to travel to the draft each will receive a stipend, "believed to be about $5,000." But Heyman noted a "bout with over-concerned legal eagles prevented MLB from presenting contracts to the 30 Negro Leaguers" (SI.com, 6/2).