Friday, June 6, 2008

Signability = It's About The Money, Stupid

So the Yanks drafted California HS RHP Gerrit Cole in the first round (28th pick overall) of the MLB Draft yesterday. First, his impressive scouting report from (emphasis mine, of course):

Cole is the best righthander out of Southern California since Phil Hughes starred at Santa Ana's Foothills High in 2004. Cole's four-seam fastball ranges from 93-96 mph, occasionally peaking at 97-98. He adds a hard, late-breaking curve which shows bite, tilt and depth. Cole used his changeup sparingly early in the season, though he used it more later. Adding to Cole's considerable appeal to scouts is his tall, lanky and projectable frame, which is nearly ideal for a prep righthander. Scouts are split over whether Cole profiles as a starter or closer. He maintains velocity and pitch movement deep into games, but his inconsistent command and tendency to run up high pitch counts may move him to the bullpen. Some scouts have compared him to Mariners closer J.J. Putz. Cole does bring mechanical concerns. He lands on a stiff front leg, and he recoils his arm during his follow-through. Both hurt control and raise injury concerns. Complicating the situation, Cole's adviser is the Scott Boras Corp., which may eliminate many clubs from consideration. Cole also hasn't endeared himself to scouts or teammates with what one scout described as his immature mound demeanor.

Cole may have the best teenage arm in this draft. He throws a four seamer that peaks at 97-98 and a heavy two seamer that runs in the low-90s. Baseball America has ranked his fastball at the top of the high school class. There are two questions that have dogged Cole this spring: (1) his makeup and (2) his signability, as he is represented by the Scott Boras Corporation and has committed to UCLA. Slot money probably won't do the trick here. The tall righthander could slide like Rick Porcello last year, but it is unlikely that he will receive a signing bonus approaching Detroit's first pick in the 2007 draft.

Note, each site raves about this kid's "stuff" but why on earth did he fall to #28? SIGNABILITY. What's that, you ask? (OK, I know you know but I had say that) It means he's being represented by Boras and is demanding a signing bonus/pro contract worthy of someone being drafted in the top few picks. It's also another example how badly flawed the draft process is for MLB. Now, as a fan of a team who routinely drafts 1) at the bottom of the round and 2) has no problem paying over "slot", I'm uncomfortably happy. But, that doesn't diminish the fact that the draft needs a few changes.

There's a whole lot more to the draft that I don't know about, but here are a few simple ideas that I think MLB needs to at least consider:
  1. Enable the trading of draft picks
  2. Enforce slotting recommendations or eliminate them
  3. Include foreign players (Central, South America; Caribbean)
Isn't the point of the draft to help the worst teams first, then the better teams? But if you sign with Boras, or leave indications that you want "over slot" value, you can force your way onto the better teams in the league. And I think I heard explained to me once that the reason MLB doesn't allow trading of draft picks is to protect teams from themselves (read: their owners) from mortgaging their future for a current run. [sidebar: Do yourself a favor and go read "Lords Of The Realm" by John Helyar. Worth a look at the history of ownership and their ineptitude.]

What's the penalty for going over slot? Nothing. And ask the Yanks if they cared about going over slot for Kennedy, Hughes and Joba. Ask the Tigers about going over slot to get Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin, both of which were traded to the Marlins to get Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. That system works just fine for them, thank you very much. Either have a slot (aka "rookie cap") that needs to be adhered to and collectively bargained or don't. Just don't sorta have a slot that 2/3 of the teams adhere to and the others don't. You can have both: just have a penalty for exceeding the recommended slot by, say, 10%. Call it a tax if you like.

And the other thing worth at least mentioning, not that it means much, is that the scouting departments for the higher revenue teams appear to be more talented than the lower revenue teams. I mean, does it take a rocket scientist to draft Rick Porcello last year at the bottom of the first round when every draftnik recognized him as one of the top talents in the draft?

Again, I write this knowing I am (not so) delicately toeing the hypocrite line: I love that my team goes over slot for the best guys available. But, the system needs to fix some flaws. Just as I am OK with the Yanks spending whatever they like, so long as they pay the extra freight (tax), I think that teams that go over slot should also have to pay more to do so.

Smart reader themarksmith noted that international labor laws prohibit drafting of players, so that's the reason for the strikethough. See, I told ya I didn't know everything about the draft rules. As I learn more (if you have any insight/expertise here, please let me know), I'll post it!

: The excellent Keith Law has his draft review on ESPN, and here is a piece of his "Best Pick" section. Sorta proves my thought that it doesn't "take a rocket scientist to draft" the best player available regardless of signability concerns. Of note:
Two other picks worthy of praise are the Yankees' and Red Sox's selections: Gerrit Cole and Casey Kelly, respectively. The praise should be tempered by the recognition that those teams' risk tolerances are higher, so they were more willing to meet those players' anticipated bonus demands than clubs earlier in the round were.


themarksmith said...

I doubt many teams want to trade draft picks. By getting a pick, you have to pay the signing bonus and then everything after. By getting a prospect in a trade (like a draft pick in any other professional sport), you only have to pay the stuff after.

As for the elimination of slots, I completely agree. It's a dumb rule when it's not a rule. It's more of a suggestion. Unfortunately, teams haven't realized they should make Santana take 17 mil a season and spend the other 5 mil on getting that good pick or two.

As for the foreign players being used in the draft, it is illegal. International trade laws prohibit it. It has to do with labor. I'll have to look it up, I forget now.

Jason said...

"There's a whole lot more to the draft that I don't know about" and maybe International Law is one of 'em.

But, I think teams would love to be able to trade picks as part of larger deals, like a Santana, Teix or Haren-type deal. It's just another form of currency.

Julio said...

Not sure if I am buying the "international labor law" line. It seems to me that the NBA drafts international players every year. If this is a problem, someone would have sued to stop this years ago and allow international basketball players to sell their services to the highest bidder.

I am not a lawyer, so I could be wrong, but I doubt that is the reason.