Thursday January 20th, 2005

Does the baseball first-year draft work? Is Scott Boras ruining baseball? Did the Padres make a wise decision in taking Matt Bush with the first pick? This was one of the most interesting drafts in recent memory, provoking all kinds of discussion and questions, and this week's mailbag presents another forum for such debate.

At least the interest level in the event is running much higher. It wasn't long ago that teams announced only their first-round pick and said little about the rest of the draft, letting a tremendous promotional opportunity go by. The draft is getting a higher profile each year, and baseball is better for it.

Tom, buddy, you really missed the boat on this one. Have you ever even seen this kid (Bush) play? Thought so. Why bother with Boras? The man is an insult to the game. The Padres made the best choice in taking a kid who hits a good .450 and has a heater at 96 mph. Come watch him play sometime then tell me he's a bad choice. -- Connor, San Diego

From what I understand, Bush's 96 mph heater is irrelevant. His pitching days are over. I'm sure he's a fine player with very good skills. It's just that high school kids come with more risk, which is one reason why the Padres were talking about taking Long Beach State's Jered Weaver or Florida State's Stephen Drew all along as their preferred picks. Signability pushed them to Bush.

Do you think MLB would benefit from a salary cap for the draft, and how feasible is it? While Boras does a fantastic job getting his clients the most money possible, it is undermining the purpose of the draft -- to make bad teams better. By setting a cap on individual player contracts for new draftees, you reduce the risk of teams avoiding certain players simply based on signability. -- Paul Guarna, Newark, Del.

There is a de facto cap in place. Teams have been "slotting" players when it comes to bonus money. (The players' union has no protection over such picks, at least ones who don't get major league contracts.) I would agree with your premise about undermining the purpose of the draft, but it applies only with the absolute stud players, such as an Alex Rodriguez or Mark Prior. And that's when the benefits of revenue sharing should kick in. Use that money on a draft pick you think is a franchise player and step up to sign him, even if it's a Boras client. Otherwise, the assignable values to most first-round picks are not tremendously different.

It is reprehensible that Nomar Garciaparra may end up as the starting AL shortstop in the All-Star Game. Should MLB institute a minimum games-played rule? -- Steve, Milwaukee

That's not a bad idea. How about 50 percent? I know it's "the fan's game" and people should get to see the players they want, but there should be something earned about a starting spot, also. It reminds me of when Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove at first base in 1999 despite playing 135 games at DH. I find such votes to be embarrassing for baseball. Remember, the Red Sox were home for much of April and May, and the voting typically reflects teams with good home attendance numbers. Hopefully it will change.

This deal with the Padres and other teams not drafting the best players is bogus. I thought Bud Selig installed revenue sharing to promote player development, not to scare teams away from it. This is a glaring problem for a team such as the Padres, especially with their new stadium and the possibility of making the playoffs. It really is no wonder why George Steinbrenner and John Henry tire of coughing up revenues for other teams. -- Matt P., Central City, Ill.

In principle, I agree with what you said. Teams often keep their payrolls low and explain that they're putting the money toward player development, then don't step up at draft time. And the Padres do have more money coming in with their ballpark and did talk openly about Weaver and Drew. But then the story changes. If they believed they would have been in a long war with Boras over one of his players and risked not signing the guy at all, then I don't blame them for moving on. You don't just pay the highest-ranked player whatever he wants.

At the same time, when you get a No. 1 pick, you better be able to sign that player. It gets back to what I said about assignable value to players. Barring that one stud guy, the top players are pretty close. Remember when Todd Van Poppel scared everybody off with his contract demands? People thought he should have been No. 1. The Athletics, a high-payroll team then, wound up taking him with the 14th overall pick in 1990. He was the Weaver of his day (high school version) by dropping into the middle of the first round. And look how he turned out. Baseball is very different from basketball in that regard.

Don't forget the year Barry Larkin is having at shortstop. He's put up solid numbers, and it would be a fitting tribute to invite him to the All-Star Game in what will most likely be his final season. -- Jeffrey Allen, Peoria, Ill.

Wow, what a very good year by the 40-year-old Larkin, who is a great asset for the Reds when he's able to stay in the lineup regularly. Larkin began this week with a .291 average, which is close to his career mark of .296. Still, Larkin ranked 10th in shortstops in OPS, including fifth in the NL, behind Jack Wilson, Kaz Matsui, Cesar Izturis and Royce Clayton.

If Alfonso Soriano remains unsigned with Texas, do you think the Yanks will try to sign him for next year? -- Lawrence Gulley, Leggett, N.C.

Soriano will be two years short of free agency after this one, so the only way he's moving on is if Texas decides to trade him (it's possible) or non-tender him (impossible). The Yankees would rather commit money to free agent Carlos Beltran than give up players and money for Soriano.

How in the world did Anaheim's John Lackey receive a stiffer suspension than Los Angeles' Milton Bradley this week? Lackey grazed Simon Pond's jersey on May 24 and got a five-game suspension while Bradley argued with the umpire, threw a tantrum and incited a riot in the outfield bleachers last Tuesday and somehow only got four games? That's just ridiculous. Lackey sticks up for his teammates and gets more days off than Bradley, who was upset with the way balls and strikes were being called. Please tell me how this makes sense. -- Hunter, Costa Mesa, Calif.

Good question. The only way it makes sense is that Lackey is a starting pitcher. To suspend him for one or two games would be meaningless. He would just sit out the one or two games he's not scheduled to pitch. Because starting pitchers work every fifth day, baseball traditionally has used the five-day suspension as the equivalent of making the pitcher miss one start. So think of a five-day suspension for a pitcher as equivalent to a one-day suspension for a position player. A 10-day ban would equal two days lost, and so on.

Since there is a rule that every team must be represented in the All-Star Game, has there ever been any talk of a rule to limit the number of players from one team? This should prevent us from seeing Joe Torre putting his entire team in the All-Star Game. -- Ryan, Pittsburgh

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to once again lobby against that every-team-must-be-represented rule. In the names of Robert Fick and Lance Carter, we need deserving All-Stars, not obligatory ones. But no, there has been no talk of limiting how many players from one team can go. The Braves had seven players in 1997. Torre never took that many.

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