x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Smaller teams get to pick their last bunch before draft rules change

It¿s the last MLB draft before the system changes. Sam McAdam mulls the possible effects

Pitching coach Jim Hickey of the Tampa Bay Rays pays a visit to the mound to talk to starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey of the Tampa Bay Rays pays a visit to the mound to talk to starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine.

Beginning Monday and continuing for the next three days, Major League Baseball will conduct its annual First Year Player Draft of high school and college players, and in some ways, it could be the end of an era.

MLB's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in set to expire after this season and when a new deal is negotiated, it is expected that a number of significant changes will be made regarding the draft.

The biggest change is likely to come with the elimination of the compensation system, whereby teams are awarded extra draft picks for free agents who sign elsewhere - providing the team offered them salary arbitration.

Such a system has been a boon for some small-market teams, many of which cannot afford to retain their free agents. Case in point: the Tampa Bay Rays, who were decimated by free agent defections last winter - they lost their starting left fielder and first baseman and no fewer than five relievers from their bullpen.

Thanks to the many free agents who signed elsewhere, the Rays will get 11 picks overall through the first two rounds. Such a windfall allows teams to restock the inventory of prospects in their player development system and helps cushion the blow for losing established players at the major league level.

A team like the Rays might not be able to retain top players after six years of big league service time, but the prospect of extra picks in the early rounds helped maintain a steady flow of (inexpensive) talent.

Starting next year, teams with limited financial resources will be hit harder and will have to find other ways to restock their minor league inventory.

That will be cushioned somewhat by what is expected to be a new more stringent guideline for signing bonuses. Under the current system , the commissioner's office now sends "suggested'' bonuses for each pick. Big-market teams such as the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and others, however, routinely go over "slot'', enabling them to obtain high-ceiling players who are considered beyond the price range of teams with smaller budgets.

Finally, it is expected that, for the first time, baseball will allow teams to trade draft picks, something that has always been forbidden.

The change is likely to offer some teams some options: instead of signing a top pick, a small-market team could deal off its pick for more established players who are close to contributing at the major league level and could speed up the rebuilding process for perennial also-rans.

"The fact of the matter is, we don't know exactly what next year is going to be like,'' said one scouting director. "All we can do is operate within the rules now and see what happens [when the new CBA is settled]."