At some point last season, I decided that I should put together some ideas for a better collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and its players. I had my articles somewhat mentally mapped out, but they never really translated well to article form. When that happens, I leave what I have unfinished, thinking one of two things will happen. The idea will crystallize, or I'll eventually hate it enough to change the article title to "Delete This". Al knows what to do with it then. After thinking about it from a different direction, I like it a bit better. I even trimmed it to a two-parter from a three-parter. Here are some of my ideas toward changing baseball for the better through a new Collective Bargaining Agreement..
To start, this won't be ratified, whether in full or in general. To get ratified, 23 of the 30 teams would have to agree with me. They won't. My appreciation for baseball is more than just a money thing, and for owners, sometimes I have my doubts. Football has built-in health concerns that are growing bigger as time progresses. Basketball has very good players, but they seem to have, what I would call, geographic problems. Hockey is climbing my list of favorite sports, as they have a nice mesh of player value and executive value.
The executive value is a large part of baseball's "problem," based on the current CBA. The players are very competitive, and want to win very badly. Anthony Rizzo pointed that out recently, announcing that he thinks the Cubs will win the National League Central in 2015. I hope he's right, but that's a bit brash for me.
The problem is with executives, like Theo Epstein, grasping that the organization is benefited by having bad years on occasion. Last year, the Texas Rangers had a bad start to their season. Instead of firing everybody, the front office let things play out. They had a horrible season. Due to that, they will receive draft and international spending advantages. Others like to use the term "tank," but I prefer to consider that management grasping the leakage in the current CBA. If a bad season is rewarded, an executive with a chance to justify a really bad season is being a bit negligent to the future fans of the team if he doesn't accept the afforded spoils. That is horrible for season-ticket holders, but it can put some scalpers out of business.
Three goals in the new CBA should be: to improve the game's integrity, provide an avenue for smaller-revenue teams to have an actual chance to win, and to keep the overall revenue pouring in to the game. Any plan that goes in that direction is probably an improvement over the current agreement. I think my idea does those three things, though in a rather unorthodox way.
The first thing I want to discuss is, curiously, the types of high school senior baseball players who should consider going directly to play professional baseball. When I stumbled into this way of looking at the CBA, my ideas became even more clear, and much easier to understand.
As of now, the college baseball system is a subsidiary minor league system for the professional ranks. That should never change. College baseball should always be available as an option for preps considering the pro game. Some players really won't like who drafts them. The draft is limiting enough, and there's no point in limiting it further. Some have floated having preps "declare" for the draft before the draft in their senior high school season. Then, teams could limit their exposure in bonuses. That's a horrid idea, as an 18-year-old shouldn't be required to be a Legal Business major.
Eligible seniors that are good at baseball will wrestle with the idea of turning professional. This will be a key decision for many. Money will be offered. Baseball scholarships usually provide partial, though not complete, coverage for room and board. Participating in a major extra-curricular will cut into study time. However, education is generally a good call. How should a student decide?
A number of things need to be considered. Is "being a pro ball player" a key part in their life? If it really matters heavily to them, they should consider going pro. After the signing bonus, the pay will be terrible. However, if riding buses with similarly aged co-workers throughout America is what you want to do, then pro ball may be for you.
Are you really good at it? I mean, really good at it. Each level brings new challenges, and the opportunity for injury is always there. However, if baseball is in your blood, and the bonus is enough, it is the best way to get better.
Are you mature enough? This applies to physical and emotional maturity as well. Many players probably should play in college, given the chance. If they get in three years of college, and still have the itch, they have three years of college behind them. If they are still good, they can still get a pro deal. If they don't like the team that drafts them, they can come back for another year, and start the next year, before they settle in for a real job after they quit playing.
Can your family afford school? Education is really expensive. Ignorance is a worse option, but if a kid has baseball skills, and really wants to start getting paid, baseball is certainly about networking, to an extent. If a prep rides buses for three years, and is a sponge for information, coaching or scouting may be a job they like, and they'd never have to set foot in a classroom after high school. A few on my Twitter feed love that angle of baseball.
in reality, if a prep wants to commit 40 hours a week to playing baseball, and they grasp the long odds and low pay, they should seriously consider playing professional baseball out of high school. Unfortunately, for many, that is a wholly unreasonable option under the current CBA. The limits to spending on amateur deals are committed to holding down costs, and that dissuades many kids to go the college route.
Or worse. More in Part 2.