MLB Draft 2012: Why Talent Still Matters More Than Sign-Ability in New Format

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MLB Draft 2012: Why Talent Still Matters More Than Sign-Ability in New Format
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MLB general managers have a new slotting system to navigate during this year's draft, which starts Monday

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak didn't waste the opportunity to poke fun at his team's arch rival while explaining the nuances of the new Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft format.

With five early picks in the draft, which starts Monday, he won't waste the opportunity to stock his World Champion club's already loaded farm system either.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement passed in December, MLB teams are limited by a slotting system in the amount that they can spend on draft bonuses. Each pick is given a corresponding bonus allotment. Teams then calculate a bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Exceeding that allotted bonus pool results in tax penalties*.

According to an article by Jenifer Langosch for MLB.com, Mozeliak realizes that the new rules increase the need to know signing bonus demands ahead of time. General managers thus need to know if a player they draft will actually sign a contract or not.

This comment seems rather ironic, considering the slotting system was put in place to encourage teams to draft the best available talent regardless of potential contractual consequences.

"Sign-ability" has always been a concern for MLB teams, with or without the new CBA. No one wants to waste a pick on a player that will chose to pass up their offer. But as Mozeliak pointed out Thursday morning at the "Business of St. Louis Sports" breakfast presentation, that's no license to pass up the best players.

He said that aggressive teams like the Cardinals still target the top talent regardless of sign-ability. Mozeliak thinks it's no coincidence that St. Louis boasts one of the best farm systems in baseball. He then used two NL Central Division rivals—the Houston Astros and none other than the Chicago Cubs—as examples of teams overly concerned with sign-ability that now have depleted farm systems.

Targeting talent over sign-ability is certainly no guarantee of success. When the panel host mentioned the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mozeliak quickly noted them as an aggressive team that just chose the wrong players.

ESPN's Buster Olney writes that the new draft rules will prompt teams to look for loopholes and ways to beat the system. He speculates that this could come in the form of teams drafting players agreeing to sign for less than the slot allotment. The player is then drafted higher, and the team saves cap room for later in the draft.

Mozeliak, however, doesn't think that penny pinching pays off on draft day. He views the draft as one of the cheapest markets for runs.

In his mind, each offensive player is equal to their total number of runs generated. Each pitcher is equal to their total number of runs prevented. Compared to free agency and the international market, the draft is by far the least expensive way to purchase runs.

Then again, perhaps he is still jaded from losing Albert Pujols to free agency. The Los Angeles Angels are certainly paying much more per run generated by that "Machine" for the next 10 years than the Cardinals did over his career's first decade.

 

Detailing the new draft slotting system (From MLB.com)

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.

Any team going up to five percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.

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