Analytical baseball fans have complained that the new collective bargaining agreement will attract fewer athletes to baseball by reducing signing bonuses. Furthermore, the reduction in signing bonuses eliminates and available avenue for low payroll teams to acquire talent and be competitive.
I propose a change in the next collective bargaining that would introduce incentives to scout intensively, which will increase the quality of the product on the field, have a negligible effect on spending on the draft, and offer a way for “smart” – not just rich – teams to stay competitive.
This change is the reintroduction of draft-and-follow as a player acquisition strategy. In the past, teams were allowed to draft a player, monitor his progress, and sign him at a much later date. This lead to very intensive scouting of junior colleges. This practice was done away with in 2007 because baseball wanted to enforce a deadline that would get drafted players on the field faster.
That reason is admirable, and the deadline has worked out well. But we can keep the deadline and bring back draft-and-follow at the same time.
Baseball has created effective punishments to stop teams from paying high bonuses. I suggest keeping that system and keeping the deadline, with an explicit exception for draft-and-follow players. Teams would be allotted a different bonus cap, probably something to the effect of $100,000 per player, to sign drafted players at the later date. Teams would be incentivized to identify more talent without the need to pay higher bonuses on new talent everyone in baseball already knows about in the first rounds of the draft.
The last draft saw a shift into signing an endless number of college seniors as a strategy that amounts to an accounting gimmick. Teams began scouting and acquiring players not because the players will one day become major league baseball players, but because it helped their books look better in the eyes of the commissioner’s office.
Bringing back draft-and-follow would provide a new use for these draft picks. This new use will reward scouting and baseball acumen, not creative accounting.
In offering this option for teams, baseball would improve its final product on the field and provide a new way for small market teams to acquire talent. The downside would be marginally higher spending (spending that is nonetheless still capped) on players taken in later rounds in the draft, but spending on such picks has never been identified as a problem in the first place.