The Zen Master And Amateur Baseball Players

SECAUCUS, NJ: Team representative Jon Miller and Mookie Wislon of the New York Mets look on during the MLB First Year Player Draft held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

What will be the long-term impact of the rules in the new labor agreement regarding amateur players? A lot of really smart people think they already know, exactly.

Wow. Five more years of labor peace ensured, zero public rancor between the owners and the players, and yet all anyone's talking about in the TwitterBlogoSphere is how terrible the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is.

Jason Churchill: "One thing is clear -- owners don't get it. MLB will certainly lose more players to other sports and to college with the new regulations."

Ben Badler: "Whoever negotiated the CBA must not have a clue what happens, and what is about to happen, in Latin America."

Kevin Goldstein: "You know how the Royals have a great system? They did that through spending big money on the draft. Strategy now basically illegal."

Dan Szymborski: "Great news about draft pick cap. It's about time these fat cat Dominican kids stop stealing money from poor owners."

Jeff Passan: "Philosophies, strategies, advantages -- gone. These new rules are game changers in the strictest sense of the words."

Joe Sheehan: "Just keep coming back to how...communistic...new CBA makes market for foreign amateurs. The incentives to be great at that are gone."

Szymborski, again: "I don't see how baseball benefits as a whole by turning Joe Mauers from Twins catchers to Seminole quarterbacks."

That's just a small sample. I would have found more, but I unfollowed a bunch of guys who are always talking about football and other trivial subjects.

Of course, sometimes you need more than 140 characters, and here's just a small bit from Brien's piece -- headlined The new CBA is terrible -- over at It's About the Money Stupid:

The biggest changes are to the treatment of amateur players, and the top line analysis here is that I felt like vomiting as these details were released. They’re that bad...

--snip--

Suffice it to say, this is a truly terrible deal, basically the worst case scenario and then some. It’s a horrible deal for amateur players, and will certainly push a large amount of them to college, and a fairly substantial number of young athletes to other sports altogether. In Latin America, the incentive for MLB teams to invest in developing new talent is gone, and you can expect a noticeable drop off in the talent level coming from that avenue, probably pretty soon.

One thing that everyone seems to forget about labor negotiations (and politics, and just about everything else): they've got nothing to do with right and wrong. They have everything to do with interests and leverage.

Of course the new CBA shifts money from draft picks to union members. The owners made it very clear that they wanted to save money (that's an interest) and the union members didn't want it coming from their pockets (that's another interest). Both sides have leverage, of course, so the obvious solution was to find someone with no leverage at all: amateur baseball players, both in the States and beyond international borders.

Tough darts. It's too bad for them, but that's the way the world has always worked and always will. If you don't believe, the next time you're negotiating for something, ask the person on the other side of the table if you can call in an ethicist. And let me know how that goes.

Leaving aside the morality of the new rules about amateur players, there's been an incredible rush to judgment regarding the practical impact.

Last June, the Kansas City Royals drafted a phenomenal schoolboy athlete named Bubba Starling. Playing for a small high school a few miles from Kansas City, Bubba was All-State in baseball, football, basketball, and looking really fantastic in his letter jacket. The Royals grabbed him with the fifth pick in the first round of the Rule 4 draft. The suggested "slot money" for that pick was something like $3.5 million. When the kid finally signed -- thus eschewing a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska -- he got $7.5 million.

That's a huge difference, obviously. And it's led a great many observers to suggest -- nay, to argue -- that if the new system had been in play last June, the Royals either wouldn't have drafted Starling, or they would have drafted him but not been able to sign him.

Which is wildly speculative.

Starling and his agent held out for $7.5 million because they knew they could get $7.5 million. What if they knew that $4 million was the Royals' limit? Last I checked, $4 million was still a pretty fair amount of money. As great an athlete as Starling is, the odds are largely against him someday being worth $4 million in the NFL draft.

You know who's got a lot of interest in drafted amateurs getting huge contracts? Scouts, and draft experts. If Major League Baseball loses just one extra player to football or basketball, the scouts and the draft experts will be pained. I don't blame them. I don't want to lose any great players to other sports, either. But I suspect the number of great players who will actually be lost is being greatly exaggerated today.

It's been said many times today that the new rules hurt the Royals and the Pirates, who have been spending a great deal of money in the draft in recent years. But what if they can get the same players they've been getting, while spending less money? Doesn't that actually help them?

I'm not saying I have all the answers. We both know I don't. But I think it's far too early for say exactly what effect the new rules about amateurs will have on competitive balance and quality of play, generally.

My guess, though? Whether positive or negative, the overall impact will be small enough that it's difficult to measure.

Sure, maybe it's the end of the world. But we can't know that yet. Today, I feel fine.

And I'm reminded, as I so often am, of the story about the Zen master and the little boy.

We'll see.

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