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Sunday, June 02, 2019

Anarchy, ingenuity and a lot to gain: How one team could blow up MLB draft

Before unveiling the plan, an important primer on how the draft works. Every pick in the first 10 rounds is assigned a dollar value. The sum of these values constitutes each team’s bonus pool. Teams can exceed these pools up to 5% without serious penalty. Between 5% and 10%, they lose the next year’s first-round pick, all of which come with at least $2 million in pool money. If they’re 10% to 15% over, they lose a first- and second-round pick. And anything above 15% means forfeiture of their next two first-round picks.

Which sounds pretty bad. It’s meant to. The disincentive is strong. Just not stronger than the plan.

Here’s how it works. Teams must be willing to spend significant amounts of cash, be able to engender trust from players and agents, and be able to keep secrets. Because in order to land five (or even 10) of the best talents in any draft, it’s going to take all of those things and more.

The plan starts a year in advance. It’s got to, according to a majority of the general managers, scouting directors, area scouts and agents who spoke about it with ESPN, because something so outside the norm would take meticulous planning and widespread buy-in. Team officials would start telling agents that the team wants to spend big on high school players in the draft the following year. Nothing specific. Just planting a seed.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 02, 2019 at 08:10 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: draft

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   1. Darren Posted: June 02, 2019 at 08:46 AM (#5847536)
This is creative and I don't want to immediately dismiss it, but it seems like a tough needle to thread. You've got to focus on high school players, eliminating a big chunk of your pool. Then you've got convince the players to say they aren't signing very convincingly, and then you need to land multiple top 10-15 talents. Beyond that level, you're not really moving the needle significantly on your system. Also, you've got to pay the piper the next year in the form of your first and second rounders.
   2. Rennie's Tenet Posted: June 02, 2019 at 09:03 AM (#5847538)
It's one of the areas where the union and the owners are in synch, so you can only do this once before they close off the option. The upside to that is that you don't really have to pay out excessive bonuses - just draft them and then offer what you want.
   3. The Yankee Clapper Posted: June 02, 2019 at 01:39 PM (#5847554)
As the article eventually indicates, other teams could derail the plan by selecting the targeted players - not many high school kids are going to sit out a year if they’re offered full high slot value. Too many moving parts for this type of plan to work, and it’s pretty risky if you only get 1 or 2 of the players targeted.
   4. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 02, 2019 at 01:58 PM (#5847558)
I know some teams have a better track record than others, but can we agree that the Red Sox are one of the most successful teams of the 21st century, and have both developed a lot of good young talent, as well as trading a lot of well-regarded prospects for established talent? Well, here's the top 1st-round pick of the team this century (in all years where they had at least one 1st-round pick):

Phil Dumatrait
David Murphy
Jacoby Ellsbury
Jason Place
Nick Hagadone
Casey Kelly
Rey Fuentes
Kolbrin Vitek
Matt Barnes
Deven Marrero
Trey Ball
Michael Chavis
Andrew Benintendi
Jason Groome (recovering from Tommy John)
Tanner Houck
Triston Casas

The last few are too recent to call them unqualified success/failure, but for the others, how many of those would you say they hit on?

We'll see about Chavis

So of the 15 that are old enough to make judgment, between two and five have panned out, depending on your definition. And that's a team that most think has been successful. It's not like football, where you are expected to get certain value out of your picks. It strikes me that, rather than trying to play these sort of short-term games, it's better to just take the best player that you believe is left on the board when your team comes up. I would bet the teams that do the best over time don't make it more complicated than that - just take the highest-rated player on your board.
   5. Zonk WARRIORS ALONE! Posted: June 02, 2019 at 03:09 PM (#5847569)
Much as I love trying to find ways to skirt rules like this, there are two big reasons this isn't really feasible:

First, other teams still get to pick in those first 50-100 picks you're now missing. I don't find it believable that oodles of "top picks" are going to suddenly make it loudly known that they'll wait until team X drafts him. Likewise, teams are not going to shy away from picks even if they did.

Second, any such plan really needs more draft consistency from year to year than is generally present. Some drafts are strong, some are weak. Some are top-heavy, some are deep but without a Prior/Harper/Rutschtman. Some are prep-heavy, some are college heavy. And - it takes time for those classes to shake out.

Hey - I'm always a big fan of taking fliers - and even budget busting - on guys who fall into your lap. If you happen to get your best projection in round 1, another guy you had your fingers crossed on in round 2, and then somehow a first round talent is still on the board in round 3? I think you do it (unless your scouts are convinced everyone else had him way overrated) - even if it means busting your budget and suffering the following year. But that's less a plan than just maximizing immediate opportunities.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: June 02, 2019 at 05:36 PM (#5847631)
Right. All you have to do is (a) wait for a draft that is heavy on top-flight HS talent; (b) collude with all of those players to demand "excessive" bonuses; (c) hope nobody spills the beans; (d) hope nobody notices that your first 2-3 picks have been from this pool of players; (e) hope no team messes up your rather obvious plan**; (f) hope MLB doesn't intervene and whack you Braves-style; (g) wait 5-6 years for these picks to develop.

Nothing wrong with this plan at all!

And is it still the case that if a team is unable to sign a pick this year, they get a substantial compensatory pick the next year? If so, it's not that big of a risk for one of those other teams to pick one of these kids demanding an "excessive" bonus.

just draft them and then offer what you want

Low-ball one of your picks from the pre-agreed bonus and the conspiracy becomes public.

** These teams will either be picking the guy who's (say) #5 on your list and offering him money well above the slot he would have signed or they are picking inferior players and offering them well below slot. In the latter case, at eoms point, other teams will have enough bonus pool money saved up they can afford to grab one of your guys in the 3rd-10th round after they realize what you're up to.
   7. PreservedFish Posted: June 02, 2019 at 06:01 PM (#5847635)
** These teams will either be picking the guy who's (say) #5 on your list and offering him money well above the slot he would have signed or they are picking inferior players and offering them well below slot. In the latter case, at eoms point, other teams will have enough bonus pool money saved up they can afford to grab one of your guys in the 3rd-10th round after they realize what you're up to.

Nope. According to Passan's plan, this guy expects as much as even the #1 overall pick will get. A team cannot possibly muster that much space even if they figure out what's happening (unlikely until the 3rd or 4th round) and decide to go cheap with their remaining picks. If a second team picks him, it's overwhelmingly likely that he just goes to college.
   8. never forget: the pee tape is 57i66135 Posted: June 02, 2019 at 08:25 PM (#5847657)
this plan sounds a lot like what happened with the amateur free agent bonus pools until MLB got rid of the system. basically, teams would spend 5-10x their alloted bonus pool in a year, which locked them out of the market for 2 more years. and then they'd do it again, and get locked out again.

but passan is wrong about this part:
The team would need to be successful -- really good, preferably, enough so that in Major League Baseball's June draft, it picks toward the end of the first round. And that success needs to be sustainable, too, because the idea doesn't make much sense otherwise.

the way to make it work is like this:
1: roll over a top 10 pick from the previous year by lowballing a boras client
-- now you have 2 of the first 10/ish picks.

2: trade for 2 or 3 or 4 additional competitive balance picks to add more fuel to the fire.
-- now you have 4 or 5 of the first 40/ish picks
-- and 6+ of the first 80/ish picks

3: when you get to draft day:
-- try to float as many high-upside hitters as possible to your picks in the first 5 rounds.
-- when you get to round 6, start moving on high school pitchers.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: June 03, 2019 at 12:05 AM (#5847732)
According to Passan's plan, this guy expects as much as even the #1 overall pick will get. A team cannot possibly muster that much space even if they figure out what's happening (unlikely until the 3rd or 4th round) and decide to go cheap with their remaining picks. If a second team picks him, it's overwhelmingly likely that he just goes to college.

No, the guy doesn't "expect" this, he expects to be a mid-late 1st-round pick ... he's just agreed to some team's cockamamie plan to pretend he won't sign for less than $10 M or whatever. When selected by some other team and offered $3 M, he'll happily forego college.

It's not like it's going to be hard to figure out what's happening. Suddenly in one season, the 10 best HS prospects in the draft all demand $10+ M even though they know it's "against the rules" to get that much ... and they are so convincing teams believe they will in fact pass up (say) $5-7 M to go to college? Collusion will be pretty obvious, the only question would be is it collusion among the agents (still "family advisors" at this point, right?) or a single team trying to corner the market. By the time the Red Sox get to their 2nd pick of a $10 M guy, it will be pretty obvious what's going on and the Red Sox still have 8 more guys they want.

The plan in #8 is a bit more believable. Then you might get 5-6 of your top 10 before anybody can do much about it.

Now, let's take some recent examples:

The top 10 HS draft picks:

2011: Bundy, Starling, Bradley, Lindor, Baez, Nimmo, Jose Fernandez, Beede, Guerrieri, Joe Ross -- 70 WAR and counting, 3 big stars (one tragic death)
2010: Taillon, Machado, DeShields, Whitson, Covey, Skole, JOSH Sale, Caleb Cowart, Folty -- 50 WAR
2009: Tate, Hobgood, Wheeler, Jacob Turner, Matzek, Purke, Borchering, Chad James, Shelby Miller, Mier -- 15 WAR

Now, just outside of the top 10 HS picks in 2010 was Yelich and just outside in 2009 was Mike Trout. So cherry-picking even a bit improves things immensely. But, what, teams really thought giving Trout a $10 M bonus would have been worthwhile but weren't willing to use their #15 pick on him?

Anyway, if you could get away with it, the 2011 class would have been a good one to do it in. Fernandez hit ML in 2013 so he would have been FA this past offseason (or the coming one if you played games). Baez and Lindor have two more years of control. Nimmo, Bundy and Bradley have been useful players at times.

It does seem you likely end up with at least 1 star, often 2 and possibly 3 -- and importantly, one superstar would make the whole strategy pay off. But for a $100 M investment, 15 WAR is not a great return and probably not much more coming. Obviously 70 WAR spread out over (probably) 8-9 years is a major boost to any team. Still, the arb salaries still add a good bit -- Manny racked up $32 M, DeShields will probably end up racking up another $5-6 and Taillon was on the way to being pretty expensive but is currently on the 60-day DL (but possibly back this season) so we'll have to see how that pans out but could easily add another $30 M or so. So that 2010 class might end up costing about $170 M for 50+ WAR, still a nice return. We'd also have to balance off the value of the picks lost by going over-slot but that's not likely very much unless you are a crap team.
   10. PreservedFish Posted: June 03, 2019 at 09:58 AM (#5847757)
I think the plan would only work (setting aside the fact that it would never work) if you make it a touch more modest. It's gonna be tough to convince the real top guys to do something so risky. In reality you're probably hoping for 3-4 guys that are all mid- or late-first round quality.
   11. BillWallace Posted: June 03, 2019 at 02:46 PM (#5847877)
A plan that relies on 29 other teams acting completely within what you perceive their best interests to be, based on what you think they perceive the truth to be, with one of those sources of truth being HS boys and their handlers.

Will never happen, would be catastrophe if it was tried, for all the reasons noted in TFA and here.
   12. Zach Posted: June 03, 2019 at 07:41 PM (#5847964)
It would be interesting to see how it went wrong, but I'm confident that it would go wrong.

You'd have to approach pretty much every high schooler who might go in the first couple of rounds. Not all of them will go for it, at least one will try to use it as leverage against another team, and everyone you approach will have you over a barrel.

You'd have to persuade your owner to pony up $100 Million in one year, despite high schoolers being 4-5 years from the majors, the knowledge that he'd be subverting a system that saves him a lot of money, and the near certainty that he would face reprisals from the league.

You would be facing near certain reprisals yourself, which could easily blackball you from your profession, Coppollela style.

And the league could always declare your draftees free agents and let them keep the bonuses.
   13. PreservedFish Posted: June 04, 2019 at 09:00 PM (#5848493)
After a day of drafting and ten rounds, it's fun to look back at this and wonder about a more plausible version of this.

According to MLB's draft board, the 29th, 33rd, 34th, and 37th best players are all still available. And another 7 ranked from 50-100. All high school players, of course. One suspects that these guys were considered unsignable, and not that MLB's ranking is just aberrant. The 13th best player also fell to pick #89, due to bonus demands.

Let's say you drafted all of these guys. No collusion or subterfuge necessary, and MLB's not going to step in and cancel your deals. Offer $5 million to each one of them. You're not getting prime prospects exactly, but it's 5+ top 50 players in one fell swoop. The penalty, I think, is that you lose your top 2 picks next year. Worth it?
   14. Zach Posted: June 05, 2019 at 04:27 PM (#5848725)
Taking collusion out of the picture makes the strategy vastly more appealing, but now your strategy revolves around getting guys with firm commitments to go to college to sign with you, instead. Signing one of those guys is going to blow up your bonus pool, and there's no guarantee that the others will sign, too.

It's worth taking a flyer with a low pick on the off chance that the guy changes his mind before the school year starts, but the 10th round is too early.
   15. PreservedFish Posted: June 05, 2019 at 05:02 PM (#5848729)
That's true, you'd need to get them to agree en masse somehow.

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