CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

The pros and cons of trading Draft picks

The pros and cons of trading Draft picks

Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft has been in existence since 1965 and, over the years, has evolved into a multiday event that teams rely on to stock their farm systems. It is, however, an imperfect system, with bonus demands and payouts escalating and threatening to prevent the Draft from accomplishing its purpose: allowing the weaker teams to rebuild and compete.

Though the Draft can't be revamped until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of 2011, the task is a daunting one, and Major League Baseball has convened a committee, headed by former general manager John Schuerholz, to identify existing problems and find solutions for them. Over the course of the week, MLB.com will address some of these issues in a three-part series.

As Draft day approached in June, everyone knew that the Atlanta Braves would have loved to take local product Zach Wheeler. The Braves have made a habit out of picking players from their own backyard. Jason Heyward in 2007, Jeff Francoeur in '02, Macay McBride (2001) and Adam Wainwright (2000) are the big first-round examples, but a Draft hasn't gone by in the past several years without several Georgia-based players showing up on Atlanta's Draft board.

Wheeler was one of the better high school arms in the class of '09, hailing from East Paulding High School. And if there's anything then-scouting director Roy Clark and his staff liked more than local kids, it was local kids with big arms. It seemed to be a perfect storm, a no-brainer selection at No. 7 overall.

But then the Giants swooped in to ruin the homecoming by taking Wheeler one spot ahead of the Braves in the first round. By no means settling, Atlanta ended up doing something very unusual for them: They took a college pitcher, Vanderbilt lefty Mike Minor.

But what if Clark could have done something to ensure the Braves got Wheeler? What if he had been able to trade up a couple of spots to trump the Giants?

"The pitcher I would've traded up to would've been that Strasburg guy," quipped Clark, now the Nationals' assistant GM and vice president of player personnel. (Washington took Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick.)

"When a guy goes right before you, there's a lot of things that go through your mind," joked A's scouting director Eric Kubota. "Sure, you always are trying to think of ways to get the guys you wanted to get. We're always thinking about what helps us in a particular situation. I think it's bigger than particular situations; it's an overall picture that has to be looked at."

So let's look at the overall picture. The ability to trade picks seems to be something many are in favor of, and though it might take some negotiating to figure out exactly what the rules should be, implementing them would not be as difficult as, say, an international Draft.

There appear to be two main positives to Draft trades: raising interest and providing teams with options. The former isn't really a reason to make changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but there's no question that trading adds to the intrigue in other sports' drafts. (Yes, better knowledge of amateur players doesn't hurt, either.) Last-minute maneuvering and Draft-day deals would definitely spice up the MLB Draft.

"Do I enjoy watching the NFL Draft or the NBA Draft with the ability to trade draft picks?" Kubota asked. "Yeah, I think it adds some interest. But I'm not in a position to say whether it would work in our game."

One thing that might keep it from working is the size of the MLB Draft. With 50 rounds in the current structure, the need for trading might be at a minimum, save for a situation such as the one with Wheeler and the Braves. Perhaps a downsizing of the Draft -- something many are calling for anyway -- would lead to more trading.

"It wasn't as prominent back in the day, when we had 10 rounds," said Mark Broussard, the NBA's senior director for basketball communications. "But the rounds have been reduced over the years. [The NBA has just two rounds now.] Picks were being traded, but with more rounds, maybe it wasn't as prevalent. Now teams jockey here and there with only the two picks they would have."

The bigger incentive for teams, of course, would be the added strategy entering each Draft. Whether it would be to move up and get the player on the top of the board for a certain team or the ability to trade down and pick up multiple picks in exchange for multiple picks when a player didn't jump out, the ability to deal selections would give a GM many more choices.

"I think that's a good idea," Clark said. "With the system we have in place right now, I think that's a good idea. It puts a whole lot of things into play. It'd be fun, especially for the GMs. It gives them another option."

"I think the word flexibility is a good term," D-backs scouting director Tom Allison said. "It does give teams the option if they feel there is someone lower in the pool, or they feel they've done a better job scouting lower players that aren't known. They can use that to pull themselves down into multiple picks and not have to move up."

The maneuver could come in particularly handy in a year in which there's a relatively shallow talent pool. Such an evaluation is obviously subjective, but if a team doesn't like what it sees at the top, it could make the decision to trade down and go after more players later. If there had been trading allowed, would the Pirates have taken Tony Sanchez at No. 4, or would the Orioles have gone with Matt Hobgood with the next pick? Or would they have instead looked to move down in the Draft, deal their pick and still get the guys they took while also bringing in an extra pick later on?

"One of the other things that gets this question started is the actual pool that is presented to you," Allison said. "You know you will have 30 first-rounders, at least, next year. But do those 30 players deserve to be first-round picks? The pool changes; the slots don't."

This potential benefit could also lead to one of the main drawbacks for a pick-trading structure: bailing on the Draft. A team could survey the Draft pool for a given year, decide there is no first-round talent worth it and basically throw away the pick. The trading of picks could be a way to avoid spending money in the Draft, and it could be a tool used by smaller-revenue teams, the ones that really should be investing in the Draft to build from within.

In some ways this is already happening. Bonus demands have already created, at times, a situation in which certain teams won't take a player strictly because of signability concerns, even if that player is the highest one on their board. In the 2007 Draft, Rick Porcello dropped all the way to the Tigers at No. 27 for that reason. If the trading of picks was allowed, some of the teams that passed on Porcello might well have looked to the Tigers for a trading partner.

If a top pick is traded for multiple selections later, and a team then signs those players, that wouldn't be as much of an issue. The problem really would be one of perception. Small-revenue clubs constantly trading down would not look good. The Draft exists to help these teams get better, and perceptually, it could easily look as though trading away the top picks was these teams throwing away the Draft and not spending resources where they should be spent.

Perhaps that's why this has never been approved in any CBA negotiations. There's general consensus among those who run the Draft for each club, the scouting directors, and yet there's been no traction beyond that. Perhaps 2011, when a new CBA will have to be negotiated, will finally be the year it happens. But don't fault anyone for not holding their breath.

"We've been talking about this for 10 years," Clark said. "It's passed every time [the scouting directors] take a vote. But it's just something we haven't been able to get through."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{}
{}