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MLB Draft Could Use a Cap

Buster PoseyI was going to write my own recap of yesterday's signing, but Minor League Baseball has really good one that you can check out by clicking here. All I will add is that I, like most, am surprised that all the last-minute contracts (expect Yonder Alonso's) were not Major League ones. The signing bonuses were big though, highlighted by the Posey and Alvarez deals. On the average, signing bonuses are way up this year (you can read more about the bonuses at Baseball America's draft blog if you would like), but it does not concern me as much as some. This year was loaded with college prospects, who tend to demand higher bonuses. Also, the it seems that teams preferred to pay higher bonuses to get players signed to minor league deals. Just look at Brian Matusz, the fourth pick. He agreed to a $4 million bonus with a Major League deal. On the other hand, Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, and Buster Posey - the second, third, and fifth selections, respectively - all got bonuses of at least $6 million, but signed minor league deals. More MLB contracts would have likely meant lower bonuses.

Still, the hope was that the new signing rules would keep signing bonuses from escalating, so this year is a little alarming. The suggested slot system is really starting to fall apart, because it is becoming more apparent each year that teams will completely ignore it if they want to sign a player bad enough. What I think Major League Baseball should do is look into putting a hard cap on how much money teams can use to sign their draft picks, just like the NFL has. Basically, here is how it would work: each team would get so much money to work with, based on the picks that they have. The amount would be figured out by adding up the suggested slot values for every pick the team has in the first five rounds, and adding to it some fixed sum of money that in theory could be used to sign a team's picks in rounds 6-50 (the fixed sum would be a base amount that every team gets; but each team's total would vary by the picks they have in the first five rounds).

This sort of cap system would be a great compromise. First of all, it would not penalize teams with lots of compensatory draft picks, because the system guarantees they would get more money to try to sign all their picks. Also, there is no cap on any individual draft pick, so a team would still have plenty of freedom to spend the money as they choose. Furthermore, it may even add incentive for top draft picks to sign quickly, before the team uses up a significant amount of their funds on other draft picks.

Suppose a cap system like the one I described was in place for this year's draft. I do not know the exact suggested slots for all the picks, but my estimate is that no team would have more than $8-9 million to spend on all their bonuses. Immediately, that would have forced guys like Yonder Alonso and Aaron Crow (who were both reportedly asking for $9-10 million) to lower their asking prices. In 2007, the Tigers would have faced a much tougher decision with Rick Porcello. The amount they had to pay to sign him at the 27th pick would have pretty much guaranteed they could not sign one or two of their other draft picks. Then again, perhaps under these rules, Porcello would not have asked for so much in the first place.

I do not like the strict salary scale that the NBA uses for their draft, but the current MLB set-up is probably a little too lenient. Teams should have the freedom to spend their money as they choose, but at the same time money should not govern who gets the most talented players. A cap on how much money a team can spend is a good compromise that baseball should look into.