Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chin Music: After The Draft

The Major League Baseball Draft began last night and continues today. Now that the big names have been drafted, the contract negotiation games have officially begun. Players and teams have until August 15 to finalize contracts, or else the player has to wait and re-enter the draft in 2010 before he can start his Major League career. Over the last fifteen years, the league has changed the name of the draft from the "Amateur Draft" to the "First Year Player Draft" thanks to some shenanigans from current Red Sox teammates Jason Varitek and J.D. Drew. Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote two years ago about the MLB draft. In it it discusses how players tried to circumvent draft rules to how teams try to stay away from certain high profile players who they deem too expensive.

In 1994, Georgia Tech catcher Jason Varitek was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the then labeled Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. At the time, teams lost their rights to a player nearly one full year after the amateur draft, the week before the following year’s draft, teams shed their exclusive rights to drafted players and those players would re-enter the amateur draft (it should be noted that recently that June of the following year deadline has been amended to August 15 of the draft year, which coincides with the end of amateur summer leagues). Varitek, who was holding out on a contract with the Mariners at the direction of his agent Scott Boras, opted to play for the independent St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, a league completely unaffiliated with Major League Baseball and its minor league affiliates. At the time the Amateur Draft rules stated that draft eligible players were those who had never signed a professional contract. At the time these rules were written, independent baseball did not exist in its current form in 1965, meaning the term professional baseball essentially referred to Major League teams and its minor league system. The Northern League, of which the St. Paul Saints were a part of, was not founded until 1993. Varitek, who had already held out after being drafted the year before and returned to school for his senior year, went to play in St. Paul and had thus signed a professional contract, meaning he was, by draft rules, ineligible for the draft because he had signed a contract, and could thus become a Major League Baseball free agent when Seattle lost his rights the following June. Major League officials continued to contend that Varitek would be forced to re-enter the draft the following season, but the point became moot when Varitek eventually agreed to terms with Seattle.

Despite the Varitek threat that never actually came to fruition, Major League Baseball did very little to amend or change rules about its amateur player draft. As a result, in 1997 Florida State outfielder, and Scott Boras’ client, J.D. Drew was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies. Drew held out on a contract agreement after demanding 11 million dollars while Philadelphia offered him only 2 million. Drew signed a contract with the St. Paul Saints and threatened to fully hold out until the following June unlike Varitek, and become a free agent.

To counteract this threat, Major League Baseball reworded the draft rules to mean first year Major League player, not simply first year professional player. Major League Baseball, thinking it had put an end to the Drew/Boras plot to instigate a post-drafted player free agent market, quickly found itself fighting the MLBPA, which is where the entire situation becomes slightly confusing and even more interesting. Rather than intervening in this draft rule rewording in order to protect J.D. Drew, the MLBPA intervened and filed a grievance with a neutral arbitrator over the rewording of the rule, which the MLBPA labeled as a revision, something Major League Baseball could not do without the MLBPA’s consent.

Drew essentially had nothing to do with the MLBPA, he was not a Major League baseball player, and was not a part of the Major League/Minor League system, but on the principle of Major League Baseball changing a rule without arms lengths bargaining of that change with the MLBPA, the grievance of MLBPA with MLB would affect him. Drew was in no way represented by the MLBPA, there was no basis for it. What is remarkable is that draft rules, including eligibility is something that the MLBPA and Major League Baseball must agree to, considering eligibility refers to amateur/non-Major League players, which one would think would be out of the realm of what the MLBPA should be covering, considering it does not affect actual members but rather only potential members.

Despite this, the MLBPA grievance was reviewed in May 1998 by Dana Eischen, an independent arbitrator. Eischen decided that the rewording of the draft rules to clarify that it meant first year Major Leaguers (as the rule had been intended in 1965 when no independent leagues existed) was indeed an actual change and was a condition that the MLBPA had to agree to. What Eischen did not rule on was the meaning of the rules prior to the rewording, meaning that Major League Baseball could apply their new reworded meaning to the old rule, thus meaning that Drew would not be able to declare for free agency in June 1998. Eischen could not rule specifically on Drew’s case because Drew was not a member of the MLBPA or MLB and Eischen had no way to issue a ruling on an outside party under Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.

J.D. Drew re-entered the June 1998 draft, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, and agreed to terms with the club. Nearly ten years later and now a member of the Boston Red Sox, Drew is ironically known as one of the most overpaid players currently in Major League Baseball. While the MLBPA filed a grievance in order to protect the principle that Major League Baseball could not revise a rule under the CBA without its consent, and perhaps inadvertently was helping J.D. Drew, from the union’s perspective, the draft, and collusion among teams to keep entry level wages down may actually be the stance the MLBPA takes by agreeing to the concept of a draft.

There have also been some strange occurrences after the draft, but with the teams at fault, like what happened with Travis Lee in 1996. There is also a tendency for some smaller market teams to select a player that is likely to be signed rather than the best player available (because that player may demand more money than the team is willing to pay). This happened, for example, with Andrew Miller, who slipped to all the way to sixth to the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 draft.

A rule stipulates that clubs must offer draftees a contract within 15 days of selecting them in the June draft. In 1996, four clubs did not offer their first round picks a contract within the set 15 days, meaning those four picks became free agents under rule. When simply looking at the numbers those free agents made compared to draftees whose rights were exclusively held over the following year, second overall pick Travis Lee, one of the four free agents, signed a 10 million dollar contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks (a team that was not set to begin play until 1998). Meanwhile, first overall selection Kris Benson, who was offered a contract within the 15-day limit by Pittsburgh, signed for only 2.5 million dollars. Comparatively, the better player made over 7 million less because he was allowed to bargain only with one team.

Despite wages being driven down for American players due to the draft, many Major League teams still find many draftees’ prices too high, especially for unproven athletes at the professional level. This leads to top prospects, such as North Carolina’s Andrew Miller, falling in the draft. Miller, the former Cape Cod Baseball League (the top amateur collegiate summer baseball league) Pitcher of the Year for 2005, found himself dropping to sixth overall, to a slot where Major League Baseball suggests that a pick be offered less money than would have been suggested had he been first overall pick that year to Kansas City, who most likely would not have been able to afford his required signing price.

One player bridges the gap between spending a year in independent league baseball with the concept of falling in the draft: Aaron Crow. Crow fell out of the top 10 last night after he was drafted ninth overall in 2008 by the Nationals. He spent a year playing independent league ball, not to go around the draft but rather to play at the professional level, and then saw his stock drop once teams saw his hardline stance when it comes to his contract.

Related Posts by Subject


Fashion-deals said...

Generally speaking broadcasters will pull the old "we'll have to wait and see how that one's scored" which is a good way to go. Some of the unprofessional broadcasters will try to call the play on their own "surely that's a hit/error" but they often get it wrong. It doesn't bother me, they're the ones who end up sounding foolish.