How many drafts do we need, really?

It’s a premium piece so maybe you can’t read it, but Matthew Trueblood’s new BP column about the biggest issues in the next CBA negotations is chock full-o’ thought-provoking thoughts.

But in the wake of moderating the International Baseball panel at the recent SABR Analytics Conference, I’ve been thinking about the proposed international draft. Trueblood’s take:

This time around, MLB’s highest priority in this arena is instituting an international draft. Manfred has repeatedly gone to the term “single modality of entry” as he stumps for the change. He used it in Indians camp just this week, while selling the concept as a potential boon for competitive balance. He also has a tremendous financial windfall to help fund the initiative, thanks to the unusual Yoan Moncada signing. Clark, to his credit, isn’t giving away the farm yet. On Wednesday, he noted that challenges have always overwhelmed the idea, which has come up during the last three negotiations. However, he still dropped in the words “single entry” along the way, and didn’t address the fact that the owners seem much more serious about the idea this time around.

The smart money says there will be an international draft, and eventually a unified draft, within the next five years. For my part, I think people sweat that far too much. While it’s regrettable that the union has taken such a consistently weak position on the preservation of draftees’ rights and the protection of their ability to earn as much as possible, the very existence of a draft shouldn’t be anathema to anyone. It’s not like Latin American teenagers are being scouted, courted and signed ethically as it is. A draft would limit their earning potential, but not significantly more than the bonus caps to which the union agreed (irretrievably, it seems to me) in 2011. Scouts and scout-lovers cried rat when the draft was put in place 50 years ago, and they weren’t totally wrong, but they weren’t totally right, either. Prospects will still be fun to track and hear about. Teams will still employ fascinatingly varied strategies for acquiring and developing young talent. There’s an utterly inevitable new framework coming. Stop worrying and love the bomb.

I wasn’t going to worry much about it, one way or the other. The fact of the matter is — as Trueblood points out — life will go on, whether there’s an international draft or not. The talent pool might be weakened just a tad, if the bonuses become slightly smaller than they would have been without a draft … but then again, they might not be. There would be enough consequences, many of them unintended, that we can’t predict the future with any sort of accuracy.

I think there are a lot of people (insiders, mostly) who would love an international draft, and a lot of people (outsiders, mostly) who would hate an international draft, at least until they’ve gotten used to it.

For the people who prefer the status quo, I have a couple of questions…

1. Are you simply afraid of change, and 

2. If an international draft isn’t a good idea … then why not abolish the domestic draft?

Baseball people, on the record anyway, will tell you that drafts are all about competetive balance; Commissioner Rob just said that last week. Almost everybody else will tell you drafts are about owners keeping more money for themselves and their millionaire veterans.

I think that’s a distinction without a meaningful difference. Drafts do save many millions of dollars on that side of the operation … and drafts also promote competitive balance, if not brilliantly.

But there are other ways to accomplish those same goals. If spending limits are good for international players, why not for domestic players? Why not let teams sign any player they like, international or domestic, but with all subject to proscribed spending limits. Hey, here’s $30 million: Go nuts. As things stand now, smart teams are penalized for winning, with lower draft picks. Why not reward winning? Or at least not penalize it? Or if you must, give the losing teams more money to spend on amateur players. For, you know, competitive balance. But give every single team an incentive to scout every single great amateur player. Hell, think about this as a jobs program for scouts, because you would need even more of them.

Oh, and any money that gets saved? How about paying the minor leaguers a living wage. Or at least minimum wage.