The Seattle Mariners have been one of the more successful teams in the MLB Draft the last few years. They have drafted Kyle Lewis, Harry Ford, George Kirby, and Logan Gilbert as some of their better first round picks as of late. Recently, there have been some rumblings that, due to the lockout over the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, there could be some big changes coming to the way the draft is structured.
The first proposed MLB Draft change comes from Jayson Stark of The Athletic, who has a very unique take on it.
In Stark’s proposed scenario, the team that missed the playoffs by the narrowest margin gets the first overall overall pick. This would be done to incentivize teams to compete more and not “tank” to get good draft picks. Clearly, this scenario would benefit the Mariners this year, as they would have the second overall pick, but in future years hopefully would not have too much effect on Seattle if they are making the playoffs.
However, there is no chance that the teams that do tank and rely on having high draft picks would sign off on this proposal. The Orioles would have the 20th overall pick in this scenario, and they only won 52 games last year, so they need a high pick. Stark acknowledges that this scenario straight up would not work, but he suggests other options too.
Stark also mentions a report from Evan Drellich that earlier in the season the players proposed a 60-40 split between winning percentage and market size to determine draft order. That would give teams the incentive to win, and also give teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore an extra bonus for not being able to draw fans to their teams. This would be a very good balance of making teams want to win, and still help the poorer franchises in the game.
It was reported that the MLB side said no to this proposal, but offered an NBA-like lottery, and that teams could not have a top-5 pick in more than two consecutive years. This would be another way to keep teams from tanking too much, but I do not believe that it would work too well. A draft lottery is not enough to stop teams from tanking, as the NBA has shown. There are so many awful teams that will settle for a guaranteed top-10 pick every year.
What are some other ways to help the MLB Draft?
One way to help change the MLB Draft is to eliminate the signing bonus pool. The current system allows teams to draft players above where they should be taken, pay them less, and overspend on a second or third round pick. This makes the draft less about talent and more about trying to get more “bulk” average talent. It means teams like the Orioles or Pirates can be cheap and not sign the best player in the draft, but take a player under slot value and draft a high schooler later.
Taking away this system, and making everyone sign deals worth the pick amount, would eliminate this. No other drafts have this system. In the NFL, everyone signs a contract based primarily on their overall pick number, not on a negotiation between teams and players. This would make the draft more about pure talent and teams could avoid the silly negotiating between agents.
Should teams be able to trade draft picks?
Allowing teams to trade draft picks would not only change the way that the draft works, but also make it better. If the Rangers were able to trade Joey Gallo for a first-round draft pick instead of a bulk deal of prospects, that would help them down the road more, and give them more picks to accumulate. Giving teams the ability to have multiple draft picks in a round would increase the timelines for many rebuilding teams as they try to get better with younger players.
Allowing the Orioles to add more early round picks would be one way to help them get better faster. There would have to be some caveats, however; one way to start this is to only allow teams to trade picks in the top 5 or 10 rounds, so they aren’t just giving away a whole draft. This would also keep teams from hoarding picks for a year. Potentially, only allowing a team to have multiple first round picks in two consecutive years would also help.
These are several ways to try to fix the MLB draft, and particularly, end the tanking ways of teams that are perpetually at the bottom of the standings. No one wants to be a fan of a team that never spends money and never wins; that is why the current lockout negotiations are so important, because both sides need to address the tanking ways of some teams and incentive in-season success.