The Amateur Draft Needs an Overhaul

If the last two years have taught Tiger fans anything about the draft, it's that negotiations between the club and its first-round draft pick can be a long, arduous process with a not-so-happy ending in the case of Cameron Maybin. What can MLB do to change the current system?

Well, Baseball America has reported that the owners are ready to make changes, not only to the draft, but to the low minors as well with a possible vote coming over the next few months with the new procedures going into effect next year. It is with this premise that I offer my suggestions for change to a system that badly needs it.

If there is one word that signifies the draft, it's signability. Fans from all teams hear it ad nauseum during the months leading up to the draft, because it applies to every prospect that has a chance to go in the early rounds. It is also a word that MLB must take out of the equation if they are going to allow teams to take the best players available when the draft arrives.

How do they do this? I have several ideas on this.

First, what MLB must do is use the slotting system as a guideline, not as an absolute number. If a team has no issue going over the projected slot for a player, why should MLB? Those teams that choose to spend a lot of money on investing in its future should not be penalized.

Second, give clubs the right to hold onto a limited number players while they are in four-year schools. For argument's sake, lets make the number of players as five. Using the 2005 draft as a model, which five players would I want to hold on to? David Adams is an easy choice, and I would take Ben Rodewald, Zach Putnam, Tony Pechek, and Ryan Paul to round out the list. By holding to this number, teams would still have to make decisions on players and it wouldn‘t make too big of a dent in future drafts as far depth is concerned.

Also, teams would have the right to negotiate with their protected players next year after the college season to see if they are ready to turn pro. If not, the club can announce that they want to keep the player under control for another year and move on. The club can also renounce a player should he not develop and the player would re-enter the draft when he is eligible again.

Some teams could use this rule to control college players and get a quick infusion of advanced players, rather than wait for a high school player to go to school for two or three years and then sign (Does this argument sound familiar?).

I would also put an injury exception into play where if one of the protected players suffers a major injury, the club would be allowed to protect an extra player from the next draft.

Third, MLB must allow the trading of draft picks. The Giants have been well-known to sign free agents early, just for the sake of not having spend money on early picks. Instead of doing this, why not let those teams that aren't interested in spending money on the draft trade those choices?

I will also point out that picks can be traded up until a short time before the draft starts, so as the proceedings can get done in a timely manner. Trades can certainly be discussed during the draft, but nothing should be announced until after the day is completed.

After the draft is over, teams would have a 48-hour window to complete any transactions with the draft rights to players and once that's done, the player can't be traded until he signs a contract, which leads to another move of mine, which is the waiving of the one-year anniversary trade rule.

I would implement this to help those contending teams who have barren farm systems at the trade deadlines. For example, the Cardinals have very little to offer in trades after Anthony Reyes, but with the influx of players like Colby Rasmus, Mark McCormick, and Tyler Greene, it would give Walt Jocketty more assets should a player he fancies becomes available. Most teams prefer to trade for prospects that are close to the big leagues, but with teams hanging onto those players like gold, that option becomes less likely and this would be a good fall-back alternative.

Fourth, MLB must get rid of the free agent compensation picks. Simply put, if MLB is so upset about the amount of money being spent on the draft, they need only to look at the $15 million dollars spent on compensation picks, and that figure could grow significantly if the Dodgers sign Luke Hochevar.

Eliminating these picks would open up free agency as teams wouldn't be afraid of losing picks and a straight draft allows the top talent to go to the teams in the worst need of it. Fifth, a universal signing date must be put in place. This has been discussed as part of the new changes, but this would end these needless, protracted holdouts and get both sides to the negotiating table quickly, so that the team and the player can get started with his career—either at school, or as a professional.

Next, the idea of a combine has been speculated about and I think it would be a terrific idea. Teams would be able to get an up-close look at the top talent in one place and have them checked out medically. It would be interesting to see how many players would be invited and how it would be run.

Would the players just go through practice drills, or would actual games be played? I would also make attendance mandatory for all players invited. None of this, ‘well my adviser told me not to come, because I could hurt my draft stock' stuff that in commonplace at the NFL combine.

One other issue is pushing back the date of the draft to the end of June. This is interesting because it could open the draft pool up just a little bit by allowing more draft-eligible sophomores into the mix, as the 45-day window would be moved back to where the date is set at and take the draft-and-follow process away from fourth-year juniors who play at the elite programs in the country, who play past the current draft date and teams lose the rights to them.

There is also the ongoing discussion of eliminating the complex leagues and the total reorganization of the other short-season leagues. I think this has a good chance of happening because there are only four teams (Arizona, Atlanta, Colorado, and Minnesota) that would have to make changes with the leagues involved.

The Twins and Braves would pickup one of the clubs that the Rockies and D-Backs have, as the latter both have teams in the Pioneer and Northwest Leagues.

Baseball America has mentioned in its reports that the leagues that would still be affiliated (Northwest, NY-Penn, and Pioneer) would begin play in May and end in late August. If this is the case, why not start in April and make it a full-season league? It would give younger players their first taste in having to deal with the long grind a 140-game schedule can provide. Their will still be players on hand in extended spring training on rehab assignments and others would be available should an injury issue come up with one of the teams.

One thing to consider is if these changes with the minors go into effect, I think it would change the draft strategy for teams. It has become the norm for teams to load up on college seniors in the later rounds to fill out short-season rosters, but with everyone losing one affiliate (the Mets will lose two), there won't be much room to begin with and I believe teams would be more willing to take a chance on higher ceiling players, or load up on draft-and-follows. The number of rounds could also be trimmed down as well (30, 35 rounds?) and the Independent Leagues would get a nice influx of talent.

I don't know what will happen with the future of the draft, but one thing is certain: The current system is in dire need of being fixed and MLB can't sit back in the hypocritical role of not helping the franchises with the draft process and then choose to chastise those teams that dare go against their wishes to bring in a player, who one day could not only be the face of a franchise, but the face of the game itself.

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