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Dave Cameron on the CBA and incentives for sleaziness

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Dave Cameron has a good post up on the new CBA and how it impacts prospects over at U.S.S. Mariner.

In particular, he touches on something I've been wanting to talk about, vis-a-vis the new draft rules and the potential for abuse by teams:

Also draft related, compensation for not signing a player is now given at the same slot as the pick used on the unsigned player. In other words, if the Royals had not signed Luke Hochevar this summer, under the new rules, they would get the #1 pick next summer, and everyone else would slide back a pick. This is a big deal; it gives teams all kinds of incentives to hold the line on signing bonuses and creates a massive potential for abuse.

For instance, if the Mariners desired last summer, they could have looked at the crop of available talent, decided they weren't big fans of the guys available at #5, and drafted a HS senior who was essentially a lock to go to college, made him an offer they knew he wouldn't accept, and then take the #5 pick in next year's draft as compensation for "losing" their draftee. Essentially, teams are now given the ability to "trade" one year's draft selection for the next year's, if they so desire. The Reds actually did something similar to this a few years ago, when they were having budget issues, and now teams will have significantly more motivation to pull the same trick. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, but it's really relying on a lot of integrity from the teams themselves to work. I'm not sure putting these guys on the honor system is a great idea.

I think this is a huge issue, something I thought of when I first saw the new rule regarding replacement slot picks if you don't sign a draftee, and I'm surprised that it has gotten so little attention.

Under the old system, a team that didn't sign a 1st rounder would get a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds, and I'm a little surprised the system wasn't abused more then. For example, when the Rangers discovered that R.A. Dickey was missing an elbow ligament -- something that, if it had been public knowledge, would seem to have dropped him to the later rounds in the draft -- it seems like Doug Melvin would have been (from a purely selfish, pragmatic standpoint) better served to not sign Dickey, let him re-enter the draft the next year, and take a compensatory sandwich pick the following year.

That would, of course, have meant Dickey would be punished for something beyond his control, and you can legitimately argue that Melvin did the right thing in signing him anyway.

But if you have a particularly weak draft class -- such as the 2000 class -- a team with a late first round pick would possibly be better off with a compensatory pick the next year. Wouldn't the Rangers, in retrospect, have preferred to take an unsignable player instead of Scott Heard in 2000 (or, really, most of the players available in the latter part of the first round in 2000), and take your chances with a sandwich pick in the much stronger 2001 draft?

This new situation makes the incentive for abuse even stronger. Look again at the 2000 draft...the top of the draft was, generally, pretty poor, and it was obvious even then that Mark Teixeira and Mark Prior, who would be eligible for the 2001 draft, were more attractive options than anyone in the 2000 draft.

Now, let's assume that the new draft rules were in place then.

Wouldn't it have behooved, say, the Cubs, picking #3 overall in 2000, to simply take a high school senior who planned to go to college anyway with that pick, offer him nothing, and then get the #3 overall pick in 2001 as compensation?

If the Cubs had actually done that, then in 2001, they would have had the #2 and #3 overall picks in the draft...and could have taken both Teixeira and Prior.

Maybe this will work for a year or two...but I have a sneaking suspicion that some team is going to see an opportunity to game the system before too long, will use a high draft pick in a weak draft to take a guy they have no intention of signing so they can get a better player the following year, and then there will be a big controversy over it, and demands that the system be fixed.