Major League Baseball Executive Vice President Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner attend a news conference at MLB headquarters in New York City. Selig and Weiner announced a new five-year labor agreement between the MLB and the MLBPA. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The Owners and the Players Association announced their agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) today. The good news from this agreement is that it ensures another five years of labor peace. The bad news is that they came to an agreement by agreeing to cheat poor kids from the Dominican Republic as well as the United States.
One of Bud Selig's biggest complaints lately has been escalating amateur signing bonuses. He instituted a "slotting" system in the draft where MLB told teams how much they should pay each of their draft choices. The problem with this system, as far as Selig was concerned, was that teams could and did just ignore these slotting "suggestions."
Teams had no reason to follow these suggested slottings. There was little the commissioner's office could do to enforce them. They often delayed approving contracts that went over slot, but that hurt everyone as newly drafted kids could often not get minor league experience until the next season. This often forced them to either play in Low-A in April, which is a tough way to get your start, or wait until late-June to play in short-season A ball or the Rookie Leagues. The signing deadline for new draftees was moved up to mid-July in the new CBA. That's about the only good thing in the CBA as far as amateur signings are concerned.
I don't want to blame this all on Selig, because he's simply acting on the wishes of the 30 owners. But he's made it clear in interviews over the past few years that he doesn't like the way teams ignore his suggestions.
The solution, as far as the Commissioner's Office is concerned, is to make these draft slot bonuses mandatory, like they do in the NBA. But the MLBPA was going to have none of that as it sounded too much like a salary cap, which they adamantly oppose. So just as they did with major league salaries, they went with a luxury tax where teams who spend too much are forced to pay a fine.
So far, so good. I'm not in favor of a luxury tax, but even paying the tax would be a better deal for most teams than letting top talent get away. But the new CBA puts in a provision that makes the luxury tax, in effect, a salary cap. Teams that go more than 5% over the recommended amount for draft and international signings will lose their first round draft pick the next season. Teams that go 15% over will lose their next two first-round draft picks.
This is, in effect, a salary cap. Few teams will be willing to lose a first round draft pick to go over slot. Perhaps a team like the Yankees, picking at the end of the first round, might be willing to sacrifice one to sign a big name that dropped in the draft or an international free agent. A team like Washington or Kansas City would never dare. There are some protections so that you don't lose a top ten pick, but poor teams need every pick they can get. The Yankees can just sign another free agent to fix that hole in their system. The Pirates can't. That's great for the competitive balance you keep talking about, Bud.
It is undeniable that spending money on amateurs is the best way for smaller market teams to compete. When you sign an amateur, you control him throughout his minor league career at what amounts to below a minimum wage salary. Then you control his rights for his first six years in the major leagues. The top two spending teams in the draft the past two seasons have been Pittsburgh and Kansas City. How are those two teams supposed to get elite talent now?
This new slotting system takes money away from amateurs, who aren't in the union, and gives it to major leaguers who are. That's why the Union agreed to it. Some of you might say "So what? Why are we spending money on players who haven't proven anything?" The big reason is because if they succeed, they are cost-controlled for six seasons. But let me counter with this: The Pirates just gave an $8 million bonus on high school slugger Clint Barmes. Which one of those two players is more likely to lead the Pirates to the playoffs? Which one got more money? It's not the same answer.to keep him from going to the University of Texas. They also gave a $10.5 million, two-year contract to
Talented high school players are going to choose college. Talented college players are going to choose football and basketball over baseball. Given that NCAA schools can give 85 football scholarships and 11.7 scholarships for baseball that are usually split up into partial scholarships, which sport do you think most players will choose? Especially if they come from poorer families that can't afford to send their kids to college anyway. Those families also tend to be disproportionately minority in this country; so much for Bud Selig's outreach to urban kids and the RBI Program.
Internationally, it's even worse. Desperate kids from the Dominican Republic are going to sign anyway, but for a lot less money. So we're taking money away from poor Third World kids and giving it to American billionaires. Additionally, teams are only going to be able to sign kids from an established data base. Essentially, if you want to sign a Dominican or Venezuelan kid, you've got to tell the other 29 kids about him first. In theory that should raise bonuses because it should create a bidding war, but remember, everyone's budget is capped. No one is going to be able to go over a certain amount without losing draft picks. In theory, I suppose, a team could put all its eggs in one basket and give a huge bonus to one player and not sign anyone else, but that's a recipe for disaster. In a best case scenario, then, players will sign with the big name teams that they've heard of, such as the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox. In a worst-case scenario, corruption and under-the-table payments are going to be everywhere. I think the second scenario is more likely and these kids are going to be even more at the mercy of the buscones who connect players with teams.
Cuban players over 23 are exempted from this system. Yoenis Cespedes wouldn't be affected, but Kendrys Morales would have been.
In Asia, the situation isn't as bad for the players but it is worse for MLB. Japanese players who sign with NPB are exempt from the spending limits, so guys like Yu Darvish are going to get even more money when they are posted. It will prevent prospects like Junichi Tazawa from skipping NPB altogether and signing with an American team. But players from Korean and Taiwan are going to have to think twice about signing with American teams when their local league or NPB can offer a similar bonus.
On top of all that, the leagues will continue discussions on a worldwide draft. I've always been against such a thing, but now I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be better than this monstrosity.
Also, major league deals for amateur players have been banned. I'm not so worked up about this because major league deals are almost always bad for the amateur player, but it does eliminate a loophole that teams could have used to get around these onerous restrictions.
Looking at the Cubs briefly, under this system, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Szczur would be in the NFL right now. Logan Watkins would be playing college football. Ben Wells, Dillon Maples and Shawon Dunston Jr. would be in college. Matt Garza would be playing baseball, but not for the Cubs because we would not have had Hak-Ju Lee to trade for him.
I was planning on doing a story about how the new Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer management team is going to change the way the Cubs are going to do business in the signing and development of baseball talent. I'm still planning on doing that and look for something after Thanksgiving. But I can tell you right now that the new CBA is going to completely change the way that they are going to have to go about their job. Not for the better, either.