Aside from watching the blossoming of the steroid era from his lazy boy, Bud Selig’s biggest mistake has been not fixing the draft.
The Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the lifeline of each and every franchise in our favorite anti-trust-exempted monopoly, is a sham.
Draft picks are not tradeable in baseball and there is no slotting system for the contracts signed by draftees as in basketball. This means chaos and inequality.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, a perennial loser in a small market, have no chance.
Fans and journalists often cry for a salary cap, claiming that small market teams have no chance to compete against the big boys in New York, Boston, Chicago, and L.A. They’re almost right, but as you may have noticed over the past few years, small market teams like Colorado, Florida, and Arizona have found themselves making deep runs into the play-offs.
These teams primarily haven’t achieved such success by signing the best free agents available, but instead have built from within. The problem is that they had exceptional front office personnel running the show and managed to find some great young players DESPITE a terrible system.
This brings me to my first example, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now led by new jefe Neal Huntington, a former employee of Bud Selig, they have almost no shot. Unless Huntington is willing to pay above the suggested slot money the office of the commisioner comes up with, the Pirates will continue to draft pitchers with chances to develop into “#3 starters,” as they have done in the recent past, instead of studs like B.J. Upton or Andrew Miller. (I believe it was Bryan Bullington, the 1st overall pick in the 2002 draft, who then GM Dave Littlefield christened with such high expectations.)
This is not to say that a team willing to do what it takes to win has no shot, the evidence says otherwise; but, the team that won’t stray from league orders doesn’t. This should not be an issue.
The Players Union has never truly cared about the high-paid bonus babies that are selected in the draft and would seemingly have no problem creating a logical slotting system. Shouldn’t the guy the Rays take in the top 5 make more than the guy the Red Sox take with the 29th pick? Furthermore, trading draft picks just plain and simple makes sense: it creates for extra intrigue and has proven quite effective in every other major American sport.
It’s strange that this flawed system has been allowed to continue unchanged under Selig’s watch, especially considering he used to own the small market Milwaukee Brewers.
So, instead of calling for a salary cap and the inevitable nuclear winter that would come (most likely an NHL style work stoppage), all those who love the game should clamor for a slotting system and the right to trade draft picks. Once that happens, Pirates fans won’t have to wonder where their money is going.