Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I Hate the New Amateur Draft Bonus Cap Rules

By The Common Man

On the one hand, The Common Man is exceptionally happy to see labor peace reign in Major League Baseball. More baseball is inherently better than less baseball, and as we saw from 1994-1995 (and we're witnessing now with the NBA situation), a work stoppage can absolutely cripple a sport financially and in the public eye. That said, the billionaires who own the MLB franchises and the millionaires who play the game are making their bargain on the backs of the most vulnerable people in the sport, the amateur players who don't yet have a voice in union negotiations.

Being a professional baseball player is a great privilege. You get paid to play a game, and if you're really good or your name is Drew Butera, for some reason, you get paid a lot of money for it. It's tempting, as we look at the salaries paid to modern players, and to their agents, to get resentful, especially when we consider how much more they make than teachers, firefighters, military service members, and cops.

But it's worth remembering that, for every player that makes the Major Leagues, four minor leaguers will not. These are players that train for their entire lives to become Major League ballplayers who have that dream snuffed out once it becomes clear they don't have what it takes. Some of these young men make just around $6,000 for six months of work, out of which they're expected to pay rent and clubhouse dues. Most of these young men got no more than $1,000 as a bonus to sign their first professional contract.
This is part of the sacrifice we demand so that we get to see top notch professional baseball. We ask that the worst players be weeded out long before they make The Show so that we get a good product on the field. We ask young men to sacrifice the first part of their adult lives, to put all of their dreams into this basket, to prepare to be a ballplayer and nothing else for our own amusement. We encourage them to be unready to face the real world. And we do this knowing that, even as they put their lives on hold for us, the vast majority of the ballplayers at the minor league level will never see a big league deal.  And so does Major League Baseball, whose scouts and coaches have a long-confirmed bias against players who seem to have outside interests or contain real-world intelligence.

Indeed, for most of these players, they get one opportunity for a big payday, as at least some compensation for starting their adult lives later than the rest of us. And that's the day they sign their first professional contract. They get a chance to negotiate a bonus for signing with their new club (understanding that that player doesn't actually have any choice in who he plays for).  The Common Man knew many of these young men in his time as a clubhouse manager for a Pirates affiliate. These players live hand-to-mouth, some of them supporting young families. To take away from the relative pittance they're offered by their parent clubs is a crime.

But that's what the new deal hammered out by the MLB and MLBPA does, essentially limiting the potential for young players' one big payday. It limits the free market and artificially lowers the amount each player is worth paying. It's fundamentally unfair in that it demands sacrifices from those who not only are least able to bear that sacrifice, but who have absolutely no voice in the process. What do these amateurs get in return? Nothing. Their earning potential is curtailed after they get absolutely screwed over and betrayed by the people who know exactly what it's like to be in their position.

While nothing compares to the abandonment of principles of morality and basic fairness in the new collective bargaining agreement, there are other negative repercussions that are likely to follow. For one thing, with less money to throw at players like Bubba Starling, you’re going to see the best athletes eschewing baseball for sports that offer a guaranteed payday. The quality of the baseball that we watch, which is why we encourage these young men to be so single-minded in focus to begin with, will erode as the players who are forced to make the choice of whether to play football, basketball, or baseball at the big league level increasingly walk away from the National Pastime.

The lack of money available to sign young amateurs out of high school also harms the quality of the game itself. For great talents like, say, Greg Maddux, who was drafted in the 2nd round out of high school, the math changes when his potential bonus shrinks, making college a more attractive option. Indeed, some great careers will be delayed by this new agreement, and many more will be destroyed altogether thanks to college coaches who have no regard for the long-term health of their pitchers.

There is no way in which this new arrangement isn’t a giant pile of horse manure for amateur players. And it’s both horrifying and sadly predictable that MLB players had no compunctions about shortchanging young men who work so damn hard to get themselves into a position to be drafted but who have no representation in the negotiations. This is an abuse of power by both MLB and the MLBPA, and it’s a short-sighted one. While draft bonuses are flashy and generate a lot of derision for players who “haven’t done anything yet” to earn their money (patently untrue), there continue to be financial arrangements in the league that do more to limit net revenue that draft bonuses, which are typically a drop in the bucket of a team’s overall spending in a given year. Shame on Bud Selig, Anthony Weiner Michael Weiner (thanks to a helpful reader friend of the blog, founder of It's About the Money Stupid, all-around-good-guy, and person whose name is not easily identifiable in Gmail from his email address Jason Rosenberg for noticing TCM's mistake), the players and the owners for building their peace on the backs of these kids without even bothering to solve real problems within the game itself.


JimCrikket said...

Since this seems to be my day to disagree with points made on this blog, I'll simply point out that it's too early to know for sure what the effect of this plan will have on players chosen in the amateur draft. For the handful of Joe Mauers out there that may have legitimate opportunities to earn big money in more than one sport, yes... maybe a few more will choose the other sport. Maybe.

But I can't say I agree with your contention that this will ruin lives of players at the bottom of the minor league system.

I'm a big fan of the local Midwest League team and I'm not unaware that for every Mike Trout that plays here, there are hundreds of guys who are making next to nothing.

But I totally disagree that it would be a bad thing if a few more 17 year old kids chose college over rookie ball. Most of the kids chosen at the tail end of the draft have very remote MLB prospects and if getting a smaller bonus offer means they go get an education instead of entering the minor league gristmill, I'm not so sure that's doing them a disservice in the long run.

And I won't be too heartbroken if it means the Bryce Harpers of the world get a couple million less.

Different organizations will no doubt adopt different draft strategies. Some will cut back on what they pay the top picks and some the mid level picks. But they still need to fill their farms, so they're going to have to pay enough to do so.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

I do agree that baseball is in a competition for talent with other sports markets and limiting your talent pool is never a great idea. We'll have to see how this works out. The proof in the pudding will be the number of number one picks that don't sign by the deadline.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

I'm hurt. I'm "just a reader" these days. Buds once. Sadface

The Common Man said...

All fixed, Jason. With The Common Man's most abject apologies.

Kevin S. said...

JimCrikket, delaying college doesn't mean abandoning college, and if I'm not mistaken, baseball funds the tuition of minor-league players who wash out and wish to return to school.