On the surface it looks a lot like another over-hyped, over-produced event. The Bryce Harper Show, otherwise known as the 2010 Rule 4 Draft, will take place Monday, and given how much time the MLB Network is devoting to this year's affair you half-expect
But here's why the baseball draft might actually be worth tuning into: At a time when younger players are valued more than ever and the free agent market is proving to be increasingly inefficient, the draft is determining the fortunes of franchises like never before. Front offices that recognize this and are investing effort and money into the draft can "gain a huge competitive advantage," as an NL general manager says. "With steroids and all that, there's less of a demand for that late 30s ballplayer -- young players you can control for several years are the most valuable commodity now. Look at what
Says another executive, "People talk about exploiting inefficiencies in the market -- going after guys with high OBP, going after defense. The draft is really another opportunity to get an edge." Even as signing bonuses are rising as fast as the national debt the draft "is the relatively cheap, cost-efficient way to build a winning team." As
High rollers like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers have opened their wallets to sign marquee draft picks, but now some smaller market teams that once pinched pennies in the draft have come to realize that today's game belongs to the kids, and, as an executive says, "there's no better way to collect young talent than the draft."
In fact no team has recently been more aggressive than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yes, the low-budget Pirates, the team with smallest payroll in baseball ($34.9 million), have pumped more money into the draft the last two years ($18.7 million) than any other team -- more than the Yankees and Red Sox. "We're choosing to put our dollars into the draft and international scouting" -- the Pirates invested $5 million in an academy in the Dominican Republic -- "because we believe that there's the best value in doing that," Pirates GM
Pittsburgh learned their lesson the hard way. In 2007 (the year before Huntington's arrival) the Pirates passed on catcher
After years of going on the cheap the Pirates changed course in 2008 when they drafted signed stud third baseman
The woebegone Pirates, of course, haven't done much right in the last decade. A franchise that has endured 17 straight losing seasons is not a model franchise. But the Pirates' recent aggressiveness in the draft is something other struggling, rebuilding organizations should follow -- organizations like the Astros, who over the winter committed $24.6 million to declining free agents
In other words: the draft may not exactly be Must See TV, but it matters more than ever.