A modest proposal about the Rule 4 Draft

Note: this was a hockey player. Still, lol - Photo credit - Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

If the draft is imperfect, is there a way to fix it? Sure. The totally best way.

Some ideas are so good, they bum me out. Even as I'm enjoying and appreciating them, a piece of me is wondering why I didn't think of the idea first. A good example would be this series of font nonsense over at Bless You Boys. Then after wondering why I didn't think of the idea first, I realize that I wouldn't have done it as well. I love/hate those ideas. A writer who isn't jealous is probably on something he or she was prescribed specifically because they were too jealous.

Then there are ideas so good that everyone needs to know about them. The word needs to be spread far and wide. "Pay attention to this, world," everyone should want to shout from a rooftop.

This is one of those second ones.

Back in November, Tangotiger came up with an idea about the draft. That is, he came up with an idea about life without the draft. In his words:

Since teams are allocated a certain amount of money (some 4MM$ to 11MM$ each, based on how they finished in the standings), then why not do away with the draft and hold an auction?

Players would declare themselves for the draft, and set their own reserve price. If no one bids for them at that price, then they go back into the pool the next year. So, if Mark Appel sets his reserve price at 7MM$, and no one bids on him, then too bad for him.

The part about the reserve price makes me a little uncomfortable. Not every eligible player will be willing to take the same kind of risk that Appel did, and the cumulative effect would likely be to lower signing bonuses. A player faced with the choice of a) a $100,000 bonus coupled with a 40-percent chance of not having the price met, or b) a $50,000 bonus coupled with a 10-percent chance of not having the price met might err on the side of caution.

The result would probably be lower bonuses. And considering that most of these players are signing up for an industry that's going to spit them out in their 20s without any appreciable skills to take into the job market, I'm pretty sure lowering the bonuses shouldn't be the goal.

But the idea of an auction. My goodness. Think of the current paradigm of a televised draft in any professional sport.

  • Introduction
  • Talking heads jabber about players
  • Interminable wait
  • Players slowly, slowly, slowly go off the board
  • Talking heads continue to jabber

It's even worse in baseball, because at least the other two sports have a pretty good idea where the draftees fit on their new rosters. In baseball, every talking head would be right to say something like this:

Look, the odds are against Johnny Selection ever starring in the majors. The odds aren't really good for him to even make the majors. Do you realize how hard it is to be a major-league player? I hope these guys at least got their degrees when … oh, right, never mind. My producer is making the slashy-neck motion. But I'm sure it will all work out for Johnny Selection.

The talking heads can't do that, so they have to play up the strengths and talents of the drafted players. That's not to say they should do anything different -- it makes for a much, much more watchable product.

An auction, though, would bypass that need for manufactured excitement. An auction would be distilled excitement. Though I'm not exactly sure how it would work, other than that every team would have a strict budget based on their winning percentage in the previous season. A couple of the options:

Each player's name comes up in a random order
This is similar to how most fantasy auctions occur. Mark Appel's name comes up, and teams bid on him until there's one team left. This would be excellent theater when there's a Strasburg/Harper-like talent available -- a clear #1 overall pick. Will the team with the highest budget (the Nationals during both of those drafts) spend the entirety of their budget on one player? Stay tuned. STAY TUNED. It almost certainly would have been a good idea for the Nationals to outbid anyone and everyone for Harper. But how many would take that risk?

The downside to something like this would be that approximately 1,500 players will be drafted this year. You can't turn the draft into a James Michener book. It has to end at some point, and an auction for every single player is impractical, at best. And if the solution to that is the top-25 or -50 or -100 players are the only ones involved, who selects the eligible players? Seems messy.

Silent auction
This would be similar to the bidding for international players like Yu Darvish. Teams would submit a sealed bid for their targeted players. Do a little countdown with the bids that didn't make it for dramatic effect. "In third place … the Royals! groooan"

Now, I've thought about this for at least several minutes, but I can't wrap my brain around the particulars of this one. So if a team bids $6 million for Appel, but the Astros bid $7 million, does that mean their money gets thrown back into the pool? And, if so, does that mean they get to reallocate the money to subsequent bids? I'm sure there's an elegant solution, but I'm not the one to find it.

Complete and utter chaos
A gigantic space. Dozens of agents. Hundreds of team representatives. Chaos. Utter chaos.

There would be a set time. Three hours. Five hours. Whatever the network execs want, man. It's not so much an auction as a recreation of the New York Stock Exchange. When the bell rings, teams start spending their allocated money as best as they see fit.

And during that time, teams would be engaging in insane negotia-thons with the available players. Ken Rosenthal would be running around, getting on-the-floor reports. It would be like Iron Chef on mescaline, with no one knowing what was really happening. There would be deals contingent upon other deals contingent upon other deals contingent upon other deals. There would be court cases, lawsuits, protests, and everything in between.

It would be glorious.

It would never happen.

But imagine it. Mad Max Beyond Moneyball. If you're looking for a way to drive up interest, a bloodbath like that would be one way.

Those are the only three permutations my finch brain can muster, but I'm sure there's a way for an auction to work. Not only that, but it would be a) more watchable, b) more equitable (rewarding the worst teams while still allowing the smart teams to shine), and c) yes, it would still probably keep salaries down. Remove the lose-a-pick penalties of the current setup, replace it with a fantasy-auction-like budget, and bonuses would drop. I'm not wild about that part of it, but if it would convince the teams to do it …

I know this is all a pipe dream. I know it's unlikely. But, hoooo, what a spectacle. If MLB is jealous of the NFL and NBA because of the must-see drafts that drive all sorts of ratings, here you go. I'll contribute $5 to the Kickstarter campaign. Who's with me?

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