Posting Prospects

Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal wrote an interesting blog post about an idea from Scott Boras. The man is known primarily as an agent, but he is also a big thinker. The idea Rosenthal posted is about allowing teams to post prospects.

Boras's idea is rather simple. Every team protects whoever they want on their 40-man roster. Whoever isn't protected is then available via a blind posting process, just as Japanese teams use to sell off their best players before they jump to the US via free agency.

Presumably, the Boras plan would wipe out the Rule 5 draft, and add a significant new avenue for teams to acquire talent.

For instance, what if the Mariners wanted to make a serious run at Jayson Werth in free agency? They don't have the money to realistically do that. However, they could post Dustin Ackley, and acquire the cash needed to pursue Werth that way. Some team gets a prospect they didn't have access to through traditional means, and the Mariners get access to a major free agent they would not have had any other way.

Boras presents a novel idea. While I like the idea of making baseball work a little more like a free market, I worry about unintended consequences.

To start with, on a broad level, I see a fundamental flaw in the process. Teams with the most money will have the easiest time acquiring talent through the posting process. Over time, I would expect the big money teams (Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers when they figure out what they are doing) to acquire more players through the posting process than others.

However, young players are the cheapest, meaning they are the lifeblood for low and mid-market teams. It seems that the system is designed to pool younger talent in richer franchises, unless small market teams never make their younger talent available. Either way, the system would not be all that viable.

Also, even if smaller budget teams made younger talent available, and put that cash into the free agent market, what would they have to show for it? What if Cliff Lee had a $25 million offer from the Pirates, and a $22 million offer from the Yankees? Would he really go to Pittsburgh?

Maybe I'm naive, but I still think winning matters to a vast majority of ballplayers. Most free agents tend to be in their early 30s. They don't have a ton of prime seasons left. While it is their best chance to cash in, it is also their best chance to pick a winner. I wonder if some teams would sell off prospects, and end up empty-handed.

Also, what happens with all the raw prospects freshly signed? Do teams have to protect 18-year-old phenoms immediately? Does a significant portion of a rebuilding team's 40-man roster become locked by making sure nobody takes their young talent? I worry that this would be another disadvantage for teams already at the bottom.

Then again, maybe teams are smart enough to know what they can and cannot realistically do. Maybe more veteran teams use the system to dangle some of their better prospects, so they have a little more money to make an extra push in free agency. Maybe a team loaded with young pitching talent would post one of those prospects, and use that money to submit a winning bid for a hitting prospect. There are perks to the system.

Still, I think Boras's suggestion is a little too broad. Posting prospects intrigues me, but I think there needs to be some group of especially young players that is off limits no matter what. The Rule 5 draft has a minimum service time from a player being drafted or signed, based on their age. I think a similar system would be a necessity with the posting process. Furthermore, for competitive balance purposes, I think there would have to be be serious discussions about posting fees counting towards luxury tax figures.

In the end, there is no good reason to spend as much time thinking about this as I just did. Baseball is pretty set in its ways, and has a remarkable ability to resist change. Owners don't exactly love Scott Boras, either. His idea will never get serious traction or consideration, no matter how good or bad it might be for the game.