War Criminal: Draft Bonuses

August 18, 2009 | Comments (0) | by Arcturus

Like many baseball fans, I was curious to see how the whole Stephen Strasburg contract negotiations quagmire would play out. It ended yesterday with the Nationals forking over 15.1 million dollars plus a 7.5 million dollar signing bonus to sign the prized college pitcher to a four year deal. Even though the Nationals didn't end up paying the 50 million that Scott Boras believed his client was worth, I'm still a little unhappy about the current trend with the baseball draft.

Scott Boras is already notorious for delivering outrageous salaries to the major league players he represents, but the demands he has been issuing for the draft picks he represents are just retarded and in my opinion, bad for the game of baseball. First of all, to shell out anything more than league minimum for a player who's never even seen minor league competition is beyond ridiculous. I think it's criminal that some of these guys are getting better deals than some current guys on a major league roster. There's no guarantee that your overpaid prospect is even going to reach the majors, let alone be a superstar worthy of the money being paid to them. For all intents and purposes, baseball drafting still remains a crapshoot, more so than in any other sport. A prime example would be Mark Prior, whose bonus money was the highest until Strasburg came around. Prior had one good year with the Cubs and has been mediocre ever since. So Prior is 10.5 million richer, plus whatever the Cubs/Padres have paid him since he was drafted. That's bullshit. In my opinion, that's almost as bad as stealing 10 million bucks from a team. The Nats better hope Strasburg pays off, otherwise they just flushed 22.6 million down the toilet, 22.6 million they could have used to sign some better major league players in the next offseason. If Strasburg becomes their ace and pitches as such, that's great, but what kind of team will be playing the field behind him?

Second of all, these huge bonuses are establishing a dangerous precedent. Last year, the Nationals were unable to sign Aaron Crow. This year, the Rays failed to come to terms with LeVon Washington. It's difficult enough for small market teams to draw major league talent as they can't afford to pay for it. Teams like the Twins, the Rays, and the Blue Jays have built solid farm systems through smart drafting. If these draft bonuses continue to skyrocket, these smaller market teams are going to find it increasingly difficult to sign high draft picks, forcing them to go after lesser talent. These teams already can't afford major leaguers and now they find that they are being priced out of the draft market. This will definitely hurt parity as teams that have competed in the past by growing their own star players will have that avenue closed to them as well.

To Bud Selig's credit, he has tried to discourage teams from paying over a recommended bonus amount for draft slots. But many teams, including the Cubs, ignore the recommendations and do whatever it takes to sign these players. I think by doing so, you're doing disservice to the teams that don't have the payroll flexibility to do the same.

I guess basically I'm arguing for a salary cap and an end to the madness. I'm fortunate enough to be a fan of a big market team, but if I'm a fan of the Pirates or Royals, etc, I have no idea why I would even keep going out to see ballgames. I know that my team is never going to be able to sign a superstar player. I know that even if my team homegrows a superstar, that he will be gone as soon as he hits free agency or that the team will trade him to maximize his value before he becomes a free agent. If the draft situation continues to follow the path it's going down, my team won't even be able to sign their top draft picks, limiting the chance of even homegrowing good players. Soon small market teams will be settling for lower talent at all levels of the game. So much for parity.