There are numerous things people would like to address when it comes to the First-Year Player Draft. As has been discussed during this series, some would like to see an expansion of the Draft worldwide. Many others want the ability to trade picks like in other sports. Tweaking the free-agent compensation system has some proponents as well.
Even some issues not discussed in this three-parter -- mandatory physicals for all players pre-Draft anyone? -- have support, particularly in the scouting community. But there's one issue where there might be common ground, a place where perhaps both MLB and the Players Association can meet when negotiations commence for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement at the end of 2011.
The term refers to the bonus a player gets, or should get, dependent on when he's taken in the Draft. As it stands right now, before each Draft, MLB sends "suggested slotting," for each selection. They are only that, suggestions. Some teams follow the guidelines; others do not, seeking approval from the Commissioner's Office for going over-slot.
The suggestions come largely without teeth. Even if MLB doesn't like a certain deal, there isn't much that can be done beyond a proverbial slap on the wrist or stern warning. One of the chief results has been an escalation of bonuses, particularly in recent years.
It's most evident in the far above-slot bonuses in the first round, but also happens frequently in later rounds, when top talent slides because of signability concerns, only to see them get first-round money to come to terms. It is this issue that causes most to feel the current Draft system needs to be altered. Turning suggestions into mandates would go a long way toward ensuring the Draft does what it's supposed to do: allow the weaker teams to get stronger via scouting and player development.
"The easy answer is, 'Yeah, hard slotting is great,'" A's scouting director Eric Kubota said. "It makes the Draft go the way it's supposed to go. You have the opportunity to take the best player on your Draft board as long as they agree to sign for that [slotted amount]. You know what the cost's going to be. But I think there's a lot of factors involved. They have to be researched and discussed."
Surely, no system implemented would be simple. But the basic idea would be to have a set amount a player could get based on where he was taken. The NBA has hard slotting set up as salary structure. They don't have signing bonuses because the salaries are guaranteed. Each pick in the two rounds of its Draft has a set salary scale, not just for the first season, but for the second year as well as options for the third and fourth seasons.
"There would be some cost certainty built into it," Kubota said. "With a slotting system, you would know what you were supposed to get paid. The other end of things, does it really help you to not be able to take guys lower down and overpay them? Is it better for us to spend a couple extra million dollars in the Draft and sign five or six more guys lower down, which we couldn't do in a hard slotting system?"
That might be an issue that will be discussed when CBA negotiating begins in earnest. While scouting directors might miss the ability to think creatively in spreading the dollars around later in the Draft, one thing there might be complete consensus around is that a hard slotting system would tell amateurs exactly what to expect if they are selected. One of the most frustrating developments in recent years has been the proliferation of young players who believe they all deserve "first-round" money, or that because they went No. 7 in this year's Draft, they deserve the same amount as last year's No. 7 pick. With a mandated slot bonus, that issue would be swept aside.
"It gives a little bit more understanding to the player," D-backs scouting director Tom Allison said. "That's what we always try to preach, to have the player educated to the process. When they know the financial standpoint they're going to be able to receive, that's going to help alleviate a lot of their fears and certainly a lot of the club's fears. That's a benefit.
"But I don't have all of the answers on how it's going to affect it and where it would stop. Does that demand a decrease in rounds? I don't know."
Allison is not alone in wondering about the size of the Draft in relation to a slotting system. Many feel there would have to be a reduction in rounds for it to work well.
"If that's the route we're going, if we're going to have a slotting system, I think it could work, but we'd have to limit the rounds of Draft," said Roy Clark, the former scouting director of the Atlanta Braves who is now the assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel for the Washington Nationals. "If we went two rounds, under a tight slotting system, then the rest of the guys get similar money or a cap on the rest of the bonus money. We would have to cap the rounds. Then, I'd like to see the signing deadline moved up as soon as possible as well."
Clark is willing to go a step further. It might sound a little revolutionary, but sometimes outside-the-box thinking is the only thing that acts as an agent for change.
"I was concerned with the Draft and how things were working. If the Draft is broken, why do we have to have a Draft?" Clark pondered. "Why can't we let every team have the same amount of money to sign players. Everybody would have the same cap, once you're, done you're done. If you go over, there'd be severe penalties. If we didn't have a Draft, that might be another alternative."
It's probably unlikely Clark's suggestion will get very far when it comes time to negotiate, but no one should be surprised if MLB has a willing partner in at least seriously discussing changing the bonus system in the Draft.
Perhaps it can be called the Strasburg Syndrome. Not that it should all be placed on the shoulders of last June's No. 1 overall pick, but there were more than a few eyebrows raised among established big leaguers in the lead-up to the Draft and the signing deadline two months later. First, there were the reported demands pre-Draft. Then, there was the final deal: $15 million with a Major League contract. To those who had worked to get to the big leagues in order to get that kind of money, giving that much to a player who had yet to log a single professional inning was objectionable, signifying that perhaps a deal on the subject would be attainable.
"I don't really care what other players get," Adam Dunn said at the time. "If it comes down to money, money doesn't rule my world. So whatever. But it would be a lot easier if the Draft was slotted, like every other sport. I think that would take away a lot of headaches as far as drafting players, all that stuff about, 'We can't draft that guy because of this reason.' Then your team would be able to draft the best available player and not have to worry about it. And that's what the Draft is supposed to be."
There was likely more than one scouting director and general manager who said "amen" to that.