Recently, Rob Huff wrote a well-researched and rather detailed look at why it could make sense to ignore the league's draft slot limits. I responded briefly to say it won't happen. It won't, at least not by the 2015 Cubs. A perfectly logical reason exists to not do it, and it has nothing to do with penalties. It seems baseball has a rather good mechanism in place already to stop it. While it's unlikely anyone will go with the "nuclear option" regarding the draft, someone might. However, it won't be the 2015 Cubs.
I have three main reasons. The first two kind of lead to the third, which is the only one needed. To start with, nobody is that good at keeping secrets. The experts know which kids from Venezuela and the Dominican are signing with which teams. This kind of enrages Major League Baseball, but that's how it works.
Since experts in the field have a darned good read on what the range is for a sixteen year old they've never met, chances are rather large that if the Cubs, or any other team, was going over the top, someone would know. Between Kiley McDaniel, Ben Badler, and a dozen others, their game is information. They share what they have with experts when it improves their knowledge base.
If if the Cubs were telling potential selections Joe Demers and Triston McKenzie that they will be going over-the-top, somebody would know about it by now. If nothing else, rival clubs, or agent houses would have a whiff of what was going to happen. That nobody has heard anything yet is a bit of a lack of a smoking gun, but it isn't what it isn't.
Now, a bit of a look at the bonuses themselves. A rather large bit of the assessment of prep talent is the signing bonus. Last season, the Cubs selected three preps on the second day of the draft. The top bonus went to Dylan Cease. Cease, who had been the early No. 2 to Tyler Kolek among prep arms before he injured his elbow, drew a $1.5 million bonus. Carson Sands drew a mildly smaller bonus at $1.2 million. Justin Steele's bonus was at $1.1 million. Dan Vogelbach signed for $1.6 million the same year , Jr. signed for $1.275 million.
With that as the briefest of backdrops, a $1 million bonus is what is given to buy legitimate talent out of good college scholarships. There can be slight air pockets in that theory, and I'll get back to this a bit later. If the Cubs, or any other team, go bonkers this year, that is the initial price of poker. For any team wanting to blow up the cap, the dollar-for-dollar penalty doubles the effective cost to two million. Truth be told, this is still probably a better outlay than some of the seventy million dollar layouts on veteran pitching, but that's another journal.
if a team wants to add, say, twelve extra players from the high school ranks, look for it to cost them, with the tax, over $25 million. That's pricey, especially with losing draft picks in the future. But, if a team wants to go that way, have at it. If someone plays that game, my question would be if I wanted the Cubs to stay under the limit that signing period for a shot at the bonus pick. Lottery theory in practice, as it won't be the Cubs doing the deed.
Why am I so convinced the Cubs won't go this route in 2015? They might in 2018, 2025, or some other year. But not 2015. It isn't some elaborate, drawn-out reason. It's a standard rule that rankles people that follow the parent club exclusively on occasion. Yeah, it's as basic as....
Before I get there, let's play this out like the Cubs do go for broke in 2015. It'd be a hoot, as adding high school talent is a fun little excursion for fans of the minors. Let's go with this plan, and variations on the theme are fine. With the 40-round draft, I'll say they go with a rather standard 40 selections. 24 are of normal breakdown, with 16 extra preps selected. 14 of those sixteen sign. The specifics are insignificant, as the punishments won't prevent the strategy.
The Eugene roster gets filled with the usual mix of players from extended spring training and college players. By the first of June, the Eugene roster will be in the neighborhood of 34 players, with about 18 pitchers and 16 hitters. This is completely standard. The Cubs don't like over-exposing pitchers in their first year. They also won't want Sands, Steele, or any other young prospect to throw too much. This is how the Cubs do things.
Not a problem. Send the rest of the 14 rookies to the Summer League team in Mesa. Let them work out, commiserate, and pitch once every five days in comfort, along with the scores of guys not good enough to make it to Eugene. Here is your problem. Both the Eugene and Mesa rosters are capped at 35 players, and they have no disabled lists.
If you want Joe Demers (a well-regarded prep pitcher) on the Mesa squad, that's fine. He takes up a roster spot. As would any other prep from whom you want to milk a few games a week. The Mesa and Boise rosters are both at 35. While that sounds lofty, it only seems as such. When dealing with young arms these days, nobody wants their guys getting over-extended.
Sands, Steele, Alexander Santana, Austyn Willis, and someone else will likely get the ball every five days in the Northwest League. They will probably go four or five innings per, on a good day. The relievers, be they holdovers from extended spring, or recent draft selections, will take the bulk of the rest of the innings. Pitch an inning or three, then wait a few days while the other guys cycle through.
Offensively, they will have three catchers. They probably won't need them, but you don't want to get caught short in a rather ordinary game, and lose a non-catcher due to an injury playing a position they're unused to. They might even have a fourth.
The AZ Rookie League is rather loose, but they do follow baseball rules. You play all nine, unless you need more. If you run out of pitchers, you can't wave the white flag, as you can in extended spring training. You play to completion. When the Cubs have a valued prep arm or bat, the opportunities in Mesa are important. Brief, but important.
Sands and Steele wouldn't go over two innings, normally stopping after one. Many prep hitters are nowhere nearly advanced enough to hit against performers from the college ranks, three years their elder. Get them a pinch-hitting chance? Sure. Let them pinch-run, or get an inning or two in the field? No problem. Have them play as a starter five days a week when they are severely out-classed? Not likely.
A decent chunk of the Mesa roster will be veterans of the Dominican League. Some will be selections from last season's draft who just missed the cut in Mesa. Their contribution will largely be to have the team in Mesa be competitive. Having a relative non-prospect who is 20 and considers pro games to be routine lets the young kids be young kids. The veterans are also around to show the importance of proper game preparation.
While you'd like to win every game at every level, the 14 touted rookies would need to be somewhere. If you think having Edwin Jackson clog one spot on the parent club is bad, imagine having a team of 35 baseball players where 14 of them aren't really ready to play. The others would have to take all the innings, and they aren't designed to do that at that league at their ages. They will want three or four catchers, as well.
The Yankees have recently taken steps to possibly give this a go, at some point. Not only did they recently add a short-season team in Pulaski, but they have two compound league teams. That gives them 70 roster spots. At some point, should they go over the top, those would both help. More roster spots make for more room to hide ill-equipped young players. I have long been in favor of adding a new affiliate.
On occasion, a team can get a player "on the cheap." The Cubs added Willis and Kevonte Mitchell as productive preps at very low signing bonus levels. Pulling off that is a major coup. Recently, Sands noted that he would like his brother Cole, also a pitcher, to be in the Cubs system. Positively using leverage to add a player or two that otherwise wouldn't be available is usually wise.
However, adding an extra dozen preps, with rosters as they currently are at the short-season ball, won't work for the Cubs this year. As cool as it would be to have more than eight preps in the pipeline isn't feasible. The other 29 teams wouldn't allow the Cubs roster waivers, in large part because 23 of 30 owners want to keep costs down.
Baseball would be a better game, potentially, if more kids were able to get bigger bonuses. Sadly, we won't know.
Breaking the international cap isn't so much of a problem. If you have to release a 20-year-old in his third year in the DSL to make room for a better prospect, you can do that. Many of the league owners scoff at what the Cubs, Yankees, and others are doing to the international signing rules. However, not much can be done there. A worldwide draft will largely circumvent that soon, anyway.
However, the corporate rulers of Major League Baseball don't like teams getting unfair advantages. It's relatively amusing to see how something as ordinary as a roster limit can limit chicanery. It would be fun to add twenty preps in June. Not for a lack of public information, or a lack of willingness to pay a fine, it won't happen. It won't happen due to roster sizes.