Trading Picks

Posnanksi has a big piece (not that he ever writes small ones) about trading draft picks. In it he cites yesterday’s Jayson Stark article approvingly, with a nod back at my comments about Stark. Two things:

(1) Just to be clear, I don’t necessarily disagree with Stark’s overall “the draft it broken” argument. I think it is in many important ways. What I disagreed with was using the reported Boras demand of $50 million as a starting point — and the point of his most heated rhetoric — in the service of those arguments. Boras can ask what he wants. He’ll get what the Nats are willing to pay. By constantly parroting that $50 million number we’re simply allowing the Nats to declare victory for paying any amount less than that, when a good argument could be made that they’d be silly to pay anything north of, say, $25 million.

(2) I don’t think I can find a single thing with which I disagree in Posnanski’s column. If there’s a good argument against trading draft picks, I’ve yet to hear it, and I think Joe’s points about the prevalence of draft busts may be the single most salient argument for trading picks, at least from the owners’ point of view.

Why? Because if the Yankees of the world trade stuff to pick the Stephen Strasburgs of the world enough times, they’re going to experience diminishing returns. We know this, because that’s how the baseball draft rolls. Eventually, then, the Yankees are going to stop trading so much for these picks, and the signing bonuses the owners are so worried about are going to come down (and they may come down even if there aren’t a ton of busts, simply because there won’t be as big a need for top amateurs to demand so much to scare away undesirable franchises). This logic, broadly speaking is what has caused bad free agent contracts to veterans to ease down in recent years, and it will likely have a similar depressive effect on draft bonuses too.

So go read Posnanski. And if you have a good argument against trading picks, please let me know.

UPDATE: Here’s a very good argument in favor of trading draft picks from Keith Law (sorry; Insider only).

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  1. Matt C said...

    Why do you (and Joe P.) assume that it will be the Yankees and other high-revenue teams trading for high picks?  It seems like they would be the ones giving up their picks for Jake Peavy or Roy Oswalt.  The bust picks and the diminishing returns will go to the sellers, the small-market teams, making the disparity even greater.

    If you’re reasoning that small-market teams won’t make those trades because they can’t afford a $50M signing bonus, how will that be solved by making the #1 pick available to any of the 30 teams?  If the Nats decided that they couldn’t afford Strasburg, they could get a couple good young prospects in a trade, but there would be no ceiling on the bonuses.  Every top amateur would essentially be a free agent,  which would defeat the purpose of the draft.  The only reason other sports allow trading of picks is because they have a salary cap.

    Joe offered an example of the Royals drafting Mike Moustakas second overall when they knew that Matt Wieters and Rick Porcello were better choices.  If they were able to trade that pick, they would still be stuck between a rock and a hard place because either they accept a mid-level prospect or replacement-level player (why would the Yankees/Red Sox of the world make a good offer knowing the Royals can’t sign Wieters/Porcello and have no choice but to trade the pick) or they draft a guy who they know they can sign, like Moustakas.

    The only solution that would preserve the spirit of the draft and not increase the gap between the large- and small-market clubs would be the slotting system.  Most players with 0-3 years in MLB have no control over their salaries; why should amateurs?  Of course, Joe’s right that the union will never agree to this.  But I believe that trading draft picks would only make things worse.  Am I missing something?

  2. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I can’t speak for Joe, but I think the problem is mostly centered on the really high picks, right? No one bitches about the bonuses owed the 28th pick of the draft.  When was the last time the Yankees had a pick that high?  1992? And I’m not sure Posnanski’s idea doesn’t include a slot system + trading picks. Which could still be worth doing, because eventually even what MLB admits may be a slot #1 price may be too rich for a given team in given circumstances.

    As for the Union: I could see them easily agreeing to a slot system as long as they got something, howevever small for it.  They’ve thrown amateurs and non-members under the bus before, so I could see them doing it again. Any money not spent on a draft pick could go to a union member. At least that’s the thinking.

  3. DGL said...

    Matt C asks: “why would the Yankees/Red Sox of the world make a good offer knowing the Royals can’t sign Wieters/Porcello and have no choice but to trade the pick?”

    For one thing, the Yankees and Red Sox of the world will be competing for the pick.  So if the Yankees offer a low-ceiling AA righty reliever and a dozen bats, the Red Sox can offer a toolsy high-A fourth outfielder and two dozen bats.  To which the Yanks will counter with a crafty left-handed pitcher with good upside but some mechanical problems, a slick-fielding 20-year-old middle infield prospect with some pop, three dozen bats, and two pairs of season tickets behind the third-base dugout.  Sooner or later, the market will find the value of the pick.

  4. Aaron Moreno said...

    If the Royals can’t sign that pick, then they will almost always receive less talent in return than they trade away. Thus, they keep losing talent in the one forum where they would otherwise have an advantage in gaining talent. They sure as hell can’t make it up in free agency or in foreign amateurs.

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