Archive for the ‘draft’ Category

Strasburg Redux

June 16, 2009

A couple times last week I wrote in passing about Steven Strasburg and how silly I think it is that people (mostly writers and “experts”) are so riled up about the amount of money he’s apparently going to demand before ever throwing his first professional pitch.

To one of those posts, Ron commented like so (unabridged but compressed for space):

Strausburg hasn’t proven anything. They’re asking $50 mil who might be the biggest bust of all time, and he’s not worth the money. I hope the Nats lowball and him, and Boras has to make the decision of taking less money or having him sit out the year. No college or high school ‘deserves’ that kind of money, no matter how good they were at a previous level. Players today get big arbitration and free agent contracts by putting up numbers at the major league level. Last time I checked, Strasburg had 0 professional wins, 0 professional strike outs, 0 professional shutouts, etc. How is he worth anything more than a basic contract and a chance to prove himself?

And over at his own site yesterday, tHeMARksMiTh chimed in with somewhat similar sentiments phrased in an entirely different way.

I replied to Mark’s directly over at his site, but here, rather than tackle either of these arguments head-on, I’m going to try to explain my own position a little better.

1. I’m not saying Strasburg should get $50 million. Only Boras and Conlin have said that, as far as I can tell, and only Conlin seems to actually believe it. I don’t believe anyone is worth that kind of money, and there’s no way the Nats or anyone else would pay it. He should, however, get something approximating what the highest bidder would be willing to pay him. And:

2. there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a kid hiring a representative to zealously advocate for him. Otherwise it’s just the kid against the zealous advocates on the other side, and that’s how you get the reserve clause and collusion and all that. Strasburg might be a bust. He might throw out his arm this fall and be back in school (for real this time) by spring. But that’s exactly why he should be trying to get every penny he can, right now. And the Nationals should be willing to give him a lot of it, because:

3. Strasburg has proven plenty, thank you. He’s probably the best college pitcher in history. He throws 100 miles an hour with control for 100+ pitches. Scouts say he can step in right now and hold his own in the majors. Scouts can be wrong, but many of them are very, very good at their jobs, and they all seem to agree on this one. His skills have a value apart from any statistics, professional or otherwise, you might want to tack onto them. And that value is a very, very large number. If you graduate at the top of your class from Harvard Business School, you’re (even in this economy, I think) going to get your choice of a number of prestigious and lucrative job offers. You haven’t written a single professional report or given a single professional presentation, but there’s plenty of evidence you can do your job well. And you’ll be making a lot more money than the guy who graduated at the bottom of your class, and more than a lot of other guys who went to Muncie State and have been writing reports and giving presentations for a less prestigious company for 20 or 30 years. That’s the way the world works, and there’s no real good argument for treating baseball as though it were any different in that regard. All that said, though:

4. I’m not really in favor of abolishing the draft. This has been something that’s been discussed a lot lately, and I have to admit that the revolutionaries (like David Pinto) have a lot of great points, and probably make a stronger rational/economic case than the traditionalists do. But baseball is different, and there’s a lot to be said for the (theoretical) best players going to the worst teams. However, there’s a lot that needs to be done to make this fairer to the kids. Get rid of the ridiculous slotting system entirely (though it’s increasingly being ignored by most teams anyway). Make draft picks tradeable, so that a team that doesn’t value (or have the cash for) the top pick can immediately get value from a team that does. And so on. On the other hand,

5. We already know what a draft-free world would look like. There’s no draft for overseas players. Any team is free to bid on any player. And you know what? The Yankees and Red Sox don’t have anything like a monopoly on the best international talent, and never have. So I can’t quite go so far as to endorse it (yet), but the world without the draft might not be such a bad or scary place.

So anyway. That does a slightly better job of explaining where I come down on this thing than I was doing last week. No, Strasburg shouldn’t get $50 million. Nobody should, and nobody seriously thinks he will. But he should be able to get something like the top of what the market will pay for his services. And if the nature of sport prevents that from happening (which the international market suggests it probably shouldn’t), the constraints on the draft should be loosened or lifted to get as close to that as realistically possible.

Lastly (maybe most importantly): there are a lot of arguments against amateurs “deserving” this kind of money and against changing the system. And I think most of them are shockingly weak, but I get where they come from. But what are the arguments in favor of keeping the system as it is? Why do we want to continue artificially shifting wealth from the kids to the(ir) owners? I’m all ears (er, eyes)…