In Part 1 of this two-part series, I left you with a bit of a cliff-hanger. What is worse than a kid that is considering a career in pro baseball going to college to play baseball? That's pretty easy -- having him select another sport.
Let's take an imaginary example: Richard Benety. Benety is a junior in high school, and is really good at three sports. He's a star in basketball, football, and baseball. He's good enough to get a free ride in basketball, but probably not good enough to play in the NBA. As far as his football skills, he has his pick of many of the second tier schools, though not Ohio State, Alabama, and the upper-crust. However, he has plenty of choices. What are his baseball choices?
He's good enough to get a partial scholarship to some of the fairly good warm-weather schools. He isn't likely to go in the top three rounds, unless he commits to baseball. He loves the game, and his parents would approve of him playing it. His mom doesn't like the injury angle of football, and he probably won't be able to carve a pro career out of basketball. If he plays all three, he might get a $250,000 bonus for baseball, but he knows he would have to be very fortunate to do much better than that.
If Richard was your best friend's kid, what would you recommend he do? I'd probably recommend hoops if his mom's sway is enough. Baseball is generally a horrific financial decision, because owners are committed to clamping down on costs. If baseball is at a financial disadvantage, basketball and football are at a huge advantage. So is anything that leads to a degree. As great as baseball is as a game, playing it as a career only pays off in two instances: A seven-figure bonus, or a long big-league career.
While "tanking" is a problem in baseball (though not nearly as bad as in the NBA), I consider the bigger problem the jealousy owners have toward other baseball owners. "But, he has a better local radio deal than I do." "His market is bigger than mine." As Archie Bunker would have said, "Stifle."
MLB players are getting very rich. I have no problem with that. Every team in the league is drawing funny money from baseball's lucrative national TV deals. While that bubble may or may not burst soon, the job of the Commissioner is, largely, to keep owners getting rich. He should find ways to do that. I'm not worried. If a team were sold, I'm sure a new market could be found without the former owner going broke. Or, a new owner might be found to not move the team.
The problem with baseball is that owners are too jealous of each other to properly upgrade their systems as they should. "But, but, the CBA..." Which was voted on, and approved, by the owners. "It would be horrible to let (insert team here) spend too much money on amateurs. Then everyone would want to do it."
That is exactly what should be happening. Period.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has done one thing in his post, to my knowledge. (Over the weekend, he made some controversial comments on defensive shifts, as well.) The MLB draft was moved from the weekend (when college baseball games are being played) to early in the week (when they aren't). Bravo. A kid worried about moving the runner from third to the plate shouldn't also be worrying about why he has slipped in the draft to the 14th round. And it will be the 15th if he doesn't get selected by the time his at-bat ends. If the draft is important, have it when no other games are being played.
Baseball is a great sport. Be proud of it. I'd love owners to be told this: "In three years, teams will be expected to spend around $8-10 million on the draft per year, and half that internationally. Every season. If you don't like that, prepare to sell to someone who likes baseball."
I'm good with a salary cap on amateur spending. However, it should be (largely) the same for each team, internationally and in the MLB draft. And that cap should be very high. Then, young Mr. Benety can avoid risking his knees as a senior in high school football, and commit to going to a baseball camp. If he's good, the money will be there. From one of the 30 teams. If he's good enough.
The Cubs spent million-dollar bonuses on five draft picks last year. If permitted to, I figure they would have done the same for Isiah Gilliam and a few others. Why? Because the Cubs want their system to be the best it can be. I'm not sold other ownership groups are of the same mind. And it's a shame.
Okay, adding money significantly to the draft pools would help add talent. How would it limit tanking?
The key is making most draft pools very similar. For argument's sake, I will slot International spending at $4 million, and draft spending at $8 million. The bottom three records in baseball (the bottom ten percent) will get a mild stipend for their draft picks to account for higher spending on their top picks. The third team gets to spend $8,500,000, the second $8,750,000 more, and the worst $9,000,000. International spending can be $4 million per.
When a team has a terrible year, they should have a slight edge in signing the best talent. However, that shouldn't grant them three times the spending of a team that's actually committed to winning. The bad team would get the pick of the best guys, and a stipend to afford them. However, the other teams will still be able to get all the talent they want from the draft.
(Truly small-market teams, like Milwaukee and Cleveland, can get similar stipends to their pool slots. But no extra selections. Giving teams extra draft picks seems a bit silly. Let them have more money, though, so they can have an extra 'solid' pick or two per season. The compensation picks being the only trade-able ones seems foolish as well. If picks should be assets, make them assets.)
There's no reason to trot out a Triple-A pitcher for five MLB starts to tamp down on your win total. Win what games you can. And when the draft comes, draft the best guys available on your board. Sign them, get them into camp, and develop them.
The other upside on this is the international angle. Imagine a youngster in Brazil who is the second-best player on his football (soccer) eleven, but he knows he isn't good enough to wear his country's colors in the Olympics. He does like baseball, though, and he's far more good at that than basketball.
If he starts hearing the kid the next town over signed with an MLB team for $25,000, that's really good money. However, it might not be enough to send him into workouts until 11 p.m. to try to make himself the best baseball player he can be. He's smart enough to realize the odds, and might opt for something else.
If, on the other hand, the kid the next town over, who isn't that much better than him, hauled in $2.53 million from a team, and he's hearing he's having an absolute blast playing ball in the Dominican... forget soccer. I'm a baseball player.
In our society, more money goes to movie stars and really good athletes than social workers. Not a political statement, but if you want more kids to aspire to be minor league ball-players, have the likelihood of a seven-figure bonus larger. The pay in the minors is horrible, and everyone knows it. Giving young Benety a nice shot at a good bonus could counter the desire (of his parents) for him to consider another sport.
Baseball should be proud of its game and its heritage. Owners should realize that the best way to make baseball the best it can be is to recruit the best talent available. To do that, they would have to spend money on any talent good enough to play the game. Let the games be won by the teams that draft, develop, and make decisions best.
Big-market teams will always have an edge in baseball. As lukewarm as I am about the luxury tax, it probably serves a purpose. Teams are encouraged to spend to a certain high level on veteran talent, and they are punished if they go over. A similar view should be used on amateur spending. Losing players to other sports make the others sports more entertaining to watch than if those players had opted to play baseball.
The money is there. If owners do choose to sell, with a set-up as I have outlined, owners like Mark Cuban would be ecstatic to get into the game, as spending on talent is something that envelope-pushing ownership groups would probably want to do. If it means a city with a lousy stadium deal loses their team, I could get over it. Especially if it makes the game more enjoyable to watch.
Which it will, as soon as baseball becomes more lucrative to enter as a player.