June 7, 2007

What the MLB can learn from the NBA draft

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Looking for something to do at work this Thursday, June 7? Aside from reading cornelldailysun.com of course, I have another option for you – following the MLB draft. A 50-round draft might seem as boring as reading a Reader’s Digest article about the tax codes, but it actually is fun to follow. This year, for the first time, the MLB draft is being televised on ESPN2, which means that either the World’s Strongest Man Competition or competitive miniature golf will be bumped from the schedule. With the extra media scrutiny on the MLB process, I want to point out a few flaws and compare the MLB draft to the NBA draft. There are many issues I have with the MLB draft that need to be fixed, and commissioner Bud Selig should take a long look at the NBA draft for ideas.

The first, and most important difference between the two drafts is the inclusion of foreign players in the NBA draft. The NBA draft, especially in the last few years, has seen in influx of players from other countries, which provides a lot of entertainment for draft fans. It never fails to crack me up when a team wastes a top-20 pick on guys like Saer Sene, Fran Vazquez or Nickoloz Tskitishvili. In addition, NBA commissioner David Stern is always woefully unprepared to pronounce any of these players’ names. He always seems incredibly relieved when he is able to sit back and say “J.J. Redick.” This humor is not present with the MLB draft.

In addition, with foreign players not in the MLB draft, large-market teams are favored. With the NBA, any team has the “privilege” of drafting Saer Sene, but in the MLB, these players are essentially free agents. While some market teams do sign some foreign players, it is mostly the big teams that are able to sign them. If the MLB draft was like the NBA draft, Jose Reyes might be on the – gasp! – Nationals, instead of the Mets. He might be stealing bases in front of 15,000 lobbyists a night in a stadium that belongs in Sarajevo, where fans care more about people in President suits racing around the field than whether or not the Nationals win (true story). While the thought of Reyes on any team but the Mets will probably give me nightmares for the next week, it would certainly be more fair to let every team have a chance to get him.

This is even more apt when discussing the foreign players from Japan. Every year, when the top Japanese free agents hit the market, the only teams that have a chance of signing them are the big teams. What would happen if Ichiro Suzuki or Daisuke Matsuzaka were in the draft? First of all, agent Scott Boras would probably have a heart attack. Second of all, the Red Sox would not have to apply for food stamps after paying a ridiculous posting fee close to the U.S. GNP to talk to Dice-K. The economics of baseball would be much fairer.

The other big difference between the NBA draft and the MLB draft is hold-outs. Under the NBA collective bargaining agreement (good bedtime reading if you need to fall asleep quickly), there is a scale of salaries for every first-round pick, depending on the year, and where they are drafted. For example, the player picked first overall in this draft will make $3.885 million. It doesn’t matter if that player is Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Sue Bird or Turtle from Entourage. He will make $3.885 million in his first year. The NBA has already charted out every rookie’s salary for his first four years (with team options on the third and fourth year) for every first-round pick.

I am not an ILR major, but I think that the NBA’s rookie salary system is very smart. It prevents prospects from holding out and demanding a ridiculous salary. In fact, the system was put in place after 1994, when Glenn Robinson was rumored to want a $100 million dollar contract. And given the scope of Robinson’s career, more money for him to spend on hot dogs is not a good thing. In baseball, every year we hear about players who possibly are holding out for more cash. Their draft stock plummets because of these crazy salary demands. For example, according to ESPN’s Peter Gammons, somebody named Matt Harrington turned down a $4.1 million contract from Colorado in 2001, and then was drafted again in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, each time in a later round. Ultimately, he never signed a pro contract, and is probably sitting at home right now watching reruns of Run’s House and debating with his friends if Tyrie from The Real World: Denver could play in the NFL. This kind of story would never happen in the NBA.

In this year’s MLB draft, there are a number of players who are threatening to hold out for a lot of money. Most of these guys are represented by Scott “Yes my toilet paper is made of $100 bills” Boras. You might remember Boras from the infamous Alex Rodriguez negotiations with the Mets after 2000, in which Boras apparently asked for a yacht-load of money, along with billboards of Rodriguez around New York, a spaceship, a Delorium that travels through time, a pet unicorn and a VHS copy of Leonardo DiCaprio’s classic The Man in the Iron Mask. This year, Boras has sank his claws into Rick Porcello, a pitcher who might be the second pick overall after Tampa takes pitcher David Price (but given that they are the Devil Rays, they might take Donnie Wahlberg No. 1). Other potential top-10 Boras clients include catcher Matt Wieters, pitcher Matt Harvey and third baseman Mike Moustakas, all of whom could slip. Small market teams are now afraid to draft these players because of fears of a huge contract or a hold-out. If you read any MLB mock draft (yes they exist in places other than my imagination), the signability of any player is almost as important as his talent.

If the NBA was like the MLB, the draft would be chaos (and the players would be a lot shorter). Greg Oden might demand his own island off the coast of Oregon and Kevin Durant might want the Supersonics to force Soundgarden to get back together. More importantly, Portland and Seattle just might not be able to draft these two great players. That would be a detriment to the players, the fans in those cities and the NBA itself. Could you imagine the outcry if that happened? With the MLB draft finally on TV, hopefully, these problems with the draft will be recognized. And the MLB will hopefully take a page from its counterpart the NBA and implement the changes I have outlined. And always remember, when you follow the MLB draft online at work, make sure to have a lot of windows open on the screen, so your boss cannot read the tabs.