The Case for ... Trading Draft Picks

June 02, 2014

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL has in recent years tried so hard to glitz up its amateur draft for TV that it seems only a matter of time until Padma Lakshmi is brought in as host. Let's be honest: Bud Selig shuffling to the podium to announce the selection of a player few have heard of makes C-SPAN look like Game of Thrones.

There are several reasons why baseball's draft will never find an audience like the NFL's, chief among them that the prospects are largely unknowns (unless they're Bryce Harper), and they aren't expected to make an impact in the major leagues for years. Nothing can fix that—but there is a way to ratchet up the drama and urgency of the draft: MLB should step out of the dark ages and allow teams to trade draft picks, as is done in every other major professional sport. This would not only add a compelling twist to MLB transactions but also make for a better system of franchise development. More flexibility is a good thing for low-revenue clubs who are at a disadvantage when chasing players on the open market—and it could help accelerate the rebuilding plans for downtrodden teams.

This year, for example, there's no consensus top pick in the amateur draft, which begins on June 5. So why not let the Astros, who have the No. 1 pick for the third year in a row, trade the top spot—for some big-league-ready talent or for a haul of middle-to-late-round picks—if they think that's the best way to jump-start their organization? And why not give the Dodgers, who have the No. 22 pick, a chance to bolster their toxic bullpen by moving up for a shot at LSU righthander Aaron Nola, who's as close to major-league-ready as any hurler in the draft?

Trading picks has always been prohibited in baseball so low-revenue clubs couldn't unload picks as a way to avoid escalating signing bonuses. But that reasoning is less valid now that there's a firm slotting system in which a player's position in the draft order almost entirely decides his signing bonus. Proponents of the current system also argue that tradable picks would empower agents to strong-arm a team into trading away its selection by announcing that a player won't sign with a certain club. But that kind of manipulation already occurs through leaked signing-bonus demands. Others feel GMs need to be protected from the temptation to trade away all their picks—and their future.

It's not as though pick trading is completely foreign to MLB: The latest collective bargaining agreement allows teams to deal "competitive balance" draft picks, 12 extra picks added after the first two rounds (six per round) that are awarded to small-market and low-revenue teams through a lottery each year. So here's a proposal for the next CBA, which will be hashed out in 2016: Allow teams to trade draft picks, setting a maximum for the number that can be dealt away each year (the draft has 40 rounds—a team can spare a choice or two) and banning the selling of picks for cash. (Sorry, Yankees.) Imagine the draft-day drama if the Nationals had been allowed to put their No. 1 pick up for auction in 2010 and decided to see what kind of king's ransom they could demand for the chance to draft Bryce Harper.

The draft might not be broken, but it is a bore. Let teams wheel and deal, and that problem will be fixed.

SI's Mock Draft

1 Carlos Rodon LHP

N.C. STATE

Has close-to-the-majors stuff and, at 6'3", 234 pounds, a big-league-ready frame.

2 Brady Aiken LHP

CATHEDRAL CATHOLIC HIGH (SAN DIEGO)

Throws a mid-90s fastball, but his late-breaking curveball is his best pitch. Changeup needs work.

3 Tyler Kolek RHP

SHEPHERD (TEXAS) HIGH

Has been clocked at more than 100 mph, but he lacks polish and is far from big-league-ready.

4 Alex Jackson C/OF

RANCHO BERNARDO (CALIF.) HIGH

The nation's top position player has an elite arm and excellent righthanded power.

5 Tyler Beede RHP

VANDERBILT

With a mid-90s fastball, the polished righty should reach the bigs fairly soon, especially if his curve improves.

For a full first-round mock draft go to SI.com/MLB

PHOTOBRACE HEMMELGARN/FOUR SEAM IMAGES

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)