Friday, August 17, 2007

Reach for the sky, honky!

Friends, this is Bud Selig. Bud — also known as "Silky" to his close, personal friends — wants us to believe his pimp hand (foreground) is strong, albeit liver-spotted. It's an ongoing theme with Bud pretty much since he created the Wild Card; because most people thought that was a good idea, he took it as a sign that he had been granted a mandate. And, ever since, he's done as much as possible to convince every rational baseball fan that Ford Frick wasn't so bad after all.

State's evidence No. 1,263: Bud's "big idea" for the amateur draft.

I recently wrote that Scott Boras was "single-handedly responsible for destroying the slot system in the MLB draft," which is probably an overstatement (I know what you're thinking: Not you, Diesel!). Truth is, Boras hadn't destroyed the slot system so much as he had managed to convince large market teams to defy it, and small-market teams that weren't weren't willing to pony up over-slot bonuses to lay off the best prospects in the draft (for those who may not know, the slot system is nothing more than a "suggestion" by the MLB front office as to what should be paid to each draft pick; it's non-binding, and a team that goes above slot has to put up with angry phone calls from Bud's stooges who scream and yell and threaten to hold back goodies like money from the league's discretionary fund and the possibility of hosting future All-Star Games).

But the bottom line is that the vast majority of draftees still signed for slot, if they signed at all.

In the most recent CBA, Bud negotiated some changes to the draft system with the intention of striking at the bargaining power of draftees, ultimately in an attempt to make it easier for teams to stick to slot. The two most important changes were:

1) Moving the signing deadline up to August 15th, which eliminates the year-long negotiations that used to take place between players and teams, sometimes right up until the following draft;

2) Granting compensatory picks of roughly equal value in the subsequent draft for teams that were unable to sign their first-round picks (eg: If the Royals hadn't signed their No. 2 pick this season, they would have had the No. 2A pick in 2008, or the third pick overall.)

Then, just because he figured he could, Bud did something truly incredible: He actually set the slot bonuses 10 percent lower than they had been the year before. That, my friends, is the business equivalent to "Suck it, Trebeck."

One can only imagine the gigantic smile that stretched across Bud's face when this potion of the CBA was inked. Sure, this past offseason saw the San Francisco Giants sign perhaps the worst contract in the history of baseball (not to mention the Dodgers' and Astros' valiant attempts at the honor) and some of the most profligate free-agent spending, relative to the value of the dollar, in the game's history. But the idea of a prospect getting a couple of million really seemed to piss this guy off, and he had finally managed to rig the system as to make sure these heedless whelps would take what he said they should take.


Total amount spent on first-round bonuses: $57,017,093
Average amount spent on first-round bonuses: $1,900,570

Total amount spent on first-round bonuses: $62,942,500
Average amount spent on first-round bonuses: $2,098,083

Increase in spending on bonuses: 10.39 percent
(Figures courtesy of BP minor-league guru Kevin Goldstein)

That, my friends, is what I call poetic justice.

Among the "Fuck You, Bud" highlights were:

Boras client Matt Wieters (No. 5, Baltimore) was given a $6 million bonus, the largest in the history of the league for a draft pick;
• No. 27 pick Rick Porcello signed a four-year deal worth more than $7 million, the largest ever guaranteed compensation package for a prep player;
• The K.C. Royals, who have obeyed the slot more than a henpecked man throughout the years, ended up giving No. 2 pick Mike Moustakas a $4 million bonus, almost a full million over slot;
Boras got a $1.1 million bonus for fifth-round pick Jake Arietta;
• The Yankees gave a major-league contract that could be worth $13 million total to No. 30 pick Andrew Brackman, a 6-foot-10 pitcher who's getting Tommy John Surgery in a couple of days.

In all, 14 first-round picks signed above-slot deals, though a handful of those were simply deals that didn't include the 10 percent discount from the 2006 slot recommendations.

My favorite tidbit from the entire ordeal, however, was what Dave Dombrowski reportedly said to Selig, who called to give him shit about the over-slot signing of Porcello: "At least we didn't spend $50 million just to talk to a pitcher from Japan." Now that is some hot smack.

The point isn't that Bud made things worse — Porcello, Wieters et al. would have signed record-setting deals no matter what — so much as he simply proved how hopeless he is as an administrator. His hard-on for draftee bonuses is inexplicable in the face of the kind of money being thrown around for players these days, but even if his concerns were justified, it's clear that he simply is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions. All he managed to do this year was piss off everyone involved in the amateur draft process, including many of the teams who once followed slot recommendations as gospel. It's one thing, as a boss, to have all your employees hate you, but to have your peers and employers hate you as well is the hallmark of a man who simply can't do anything right.

Quoth an unnamed scouting director to BP's Goldstein: “You don’t roll back the clock in this business, not when there are $100 million contracts floating around. Everything is up, and then MLB tells teams to cut signing bonuses by 10 percent? Reasonable people don’t accept that.”

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