We've got a few ideas to improve the current state of the MLB draft.
The MLB draft is far from perfect. Controversey leaks its way into everything from the time of year its held to the rules teams must abide by to its mere existence at all. As this year's draft continues to roll along, we asked our staff to weigh in on how they would improve it.
A valuable asset in baseball is to have a local player become a star (Tony Gwynn in San Diego, Joe Mauer in Minnesota, etc.) Encourage true "homegrown" players by giving each team one "local exception" in which a drafted player from within 60 miles of your ballpark does not count against your draft pool money.
From a hype perspective, MLB is at a disadvantage here: These kids are years away from the majors at best, and it's not like high school and college baseball draw a lot of eyeballs. But I have never understood why they hold it in June, up against the NBA and NHL playoffs, while the prospects are still in school and major league games are going on. Not even their future teammates can watch!
Hold the draft during the All-Star break, in the All-Star Game host city. Only four prospects made it to Secaucus, N.J., this year. That number would probably increase if they knew they would get to meet Mike Trout.
Hold the draft in Omaha, and adjust the timing just a tad to make it line up with the College World Series. Given the nature of the game, MLB's draft never going to be a splashy event that generates the same sort of hype as it does in the NFL or NBA... but it can definitely be a little more fun and engaging. Making it possible for some of the best college players to attend in person, in a city where fans will already be gathered, would be a great start.
In this week's Nine Innings, Jon Tayler did a great job explaining why the MLB draft is such a tough sell. If there's one thing the league can do to combat the issues Jon laid out, it would be to nurture the college game, and expose as many baseball fans as possible to it. Assuming calendar logistics aren't an issue, I'd love to see MLB move the draft to after the end of the College World Series and then partner with all stakeholders to make the College World Series a bigger television event, making at least some of the names of top draftees known to people who aren't amateur baseball die-hards. It's admittedly a tall order, but it's a great place to start.
The best thing baseball could do with the draft is abolish it. It's not fair to the best amateur players, who are denied the opportunity to pick their employers—no small thing considering how much minor-league resources and coaching can affect a player's development—and whose compensation is arbitrarily suppressed. The draftees who wind up having the most success are years and years away from salary arbitration (let alone free agency) at the time of their selection; those who get hurt or who cease, circa age 28, to provide value their teams deem worth paying for may never see another post-draft paycheck over which they had any say at all.
Now more than ever, baseball is a young man's game, and it's no coincidence that the game's salary structure does worst by the young. What would Adley Rutschman be worth on the open market? Before MLB clamped down on international spending, the Dodgers signed a 21-year-old Yasiel Puig for seven years and $42 million in 2012; 24-year-old Yasmany Tomás got six years and $68.5 million from Arizona in 2014. Surely he'd fetch a contract at least that big. The draft, by the way, isn't fair to winning teams, either. Their reward for investment in their rosters and organizational staff is ... fewer opportunities to invest in high-end talent. The price-fixing probably soothes that wound. But if the Dodgers want to sign the game's best amateur, and the game's best amateur wants to sign with the Dodgers, I don't see why baseball has any right to intervene.
The timing of the draft needs to change. It’s in the middle of the college baseball tournament and the MLB regular season. Truthfully, I’m not even sure there’s a solution here, I think I’m just being irrationally (hopefully, somewhat rationally) annoyed at the timing, because it feels like the MLB draft always gets buried and subsequently pops up out of nowhere. It's just odd. As others have suggested here, a logical solution seems to be moving it during the All-Star break when all eyes can be on it. The NFL, NBA, NHL—even MLS!—have drafts in the offseason. I’m sure MLB can find a way to make their draft more of an event, too.
The international bonus pool system is nauseating at its face, often restricting the value of international players to fractions of their true market value. International players are presently forced to wait until they are 25 in order to enter a cap-less market. Otherwise, they fall into a free-agency pool where teams can spend a maximum of $6.48 million combined on international talent, stifling the potential earnings of young players.
The concerns over competitive balance may be fair. If the Yankees and Royals both have unlimited bonus pool money, it's clear which team will rake in a large share of prospects. A middle ground can be found, though. Remove the pool brackets between large, medium and small market clubs, then raise each team's pool money to a respectable figure, closer to $20 million per team. On moral grounds, the draft's abolition may be its ultimate destiny. But while the current system is in place, raising international pool money is only fair for some of the game's best young players.
The only way to save the draft is to kill it. My improvement suggestion is to get rid of the draft entirely and instead adopt unrestricted free agency for high school and college players. The draft itself is a wage-suppressing tool concocted by owners. It’s inherently unfair to the kids involved, who should be allowed to choose their next employer just like you and I can and be able to demand fair compensation as determined by the market. There are ethical and legal issues that you’d have to resolve alongside abolishing the draft in order to keep amateur baseball in the United States from turning into the highly-corrupt and exploitative signing system that exists in Latin America—part of which would probably involve paying college players. But regardless, players are better off without the draft than trapped in its arbitrary confines.