The Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft is a time for young players to follow their dreams and begin playing professional baseball. However, the draft is not as clear-cut as it seems. It seems that players get picked by a team and work their way through the minors to perhaps one day make the major leagues. With anything, money is the one issue that can hurt these players' dreams.
In 2013, the Philadelphia Phillies selected left-hander Ben Wetzler in the fifth round out of Oregon State University. In the sixth round, the team selected outfielder/first baseman Jason Monda out of Washington State. Neither players signed and returned to their respective schools for their senior seasons. Everything was fine; players are able to do that.
However, in February, a report surfaced that the Phillies turned in both Wetzler and Monda to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) for using agents during the negotiation process. While that is forbidden per NCAA rules, many players use "advisors" to help them through their negotiation process, which is considered okay, as long as they are not doing the actual negotiating of the contract.
The Phillies turned in Wetzler and Monda to the NCAA not because they were doing anything wrong, but because the Phillies were sour that they did not sign with the team. By doing that, they gave "payback" in a sense. Wetzler was suspended for 20 percent of Oregon State's season -- or 11 games. Monda, however, was cleared by the NCAA and was off the hook.
Just this June, the Houston Astros selected Brady Aiken, a high school left-hander out of San Diego, California, with the first overall pick in the MLB Draft. The Astros have found Aiken's elbow to have a ligament problem and offered the pitcher a discounted contract of $5 million, $1.5 million less than the originally agreed-to $6.5 million. Since Aiken cannot have a true "agent," the Astros can pressure him into signing for less, because he is the one doing the negotiations.
However, Aiken does have an advisor, Casey Close, a very respected agent for many current superstars in the game. Close had Aiken evaluated by many top doctors around the nation. The result? The doctors felt that Aiken was "not injured and ready to start his professional career," Close told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports about the situation. Here is the complete quote:
"We are extremely disappointed that Major League Baseball is allowing the Astros to conduct business in this manner with a complete disregard for the rules governing the draft and the 29 other clubs who have followed those same rules," said Close, who serves as a family adviser to Aiken. ... "Brady has been seen by some of the most experienced and respected orthopedic arm specialists in the country, and all of those doctors have acknowledged that he's not injured and that he's ready to start his professional career," Close said.
The Astros are like a "bad salesman" in their negotiations with Aiken. They are pressuring him into signing a discounted deal just because they think he has a bad elbow. That is not right. Even worse, the Astros used the extra money from lowering Aiken's deal to sign another Close "client" Jacob Nix, to a $1.5 million deal weeks ago. But if the Astros cannot sign Aiken, they might also back out of Nix's deal, as "payback" to Close in general. This is just a mess. And what's worse is that all deals have to be done within the next day.
Following these issues, I (along with @AntonJoe_VAVEL on Twitter -- give him a follow) have thought about how to fix the issues with the MLB Draft.
First off, give the players some representation! These guys are going to become professional baseball players, and some are negotiating contracts in the millions of dollars. How are these guys, some as young as 18-years-old, expected to negotiate a deal with a huge organization. At least get them a guy that knows what he's doing. Agents have been negotiating contracts with many different players for years! As the contracts become more pricey, these players need someone to negotiate on their behalf.
Let me ask you this: if you were 21-years-old, knew nothing about the negotiations about baseball, and were told to negotiate your own contract worth millions of dollars, how would you react? You would probably want some representation. You probably would want someone to help you with the negotiation process. But, you are unable to do it. How would you feel? Not good, I'd expect.
Second, players should have to declare for the MLB draft. This way, players who get representation know they will definitely be drafted and have to negotiate a contract. You would not want a player to get an agent, not reach a deal, and return to school. What would happen; would a player have to fire their agent, and then rehire him when the player is ready to get drafted? Imagine all the issues that could arise. If an agent does not like a specific player, he could not negotiate as hard for him, and not reach a contract with a team, just to get "fired." To avoid this, force players to declare for the draft and sign. If a deal is not reached, they cannot return to school, or sign elsewhere as a free agent (I'll explain later).
Lastly, players must go to college before turning professional. The only reason I say this is because of the two previous fixed issues. Say a high school player declares for the MLB Draft, and cannot come to an agreement with a team. He now has an agent, but should he be allowed to go to college and play baseball? It again brings up the same "agent while the player is in college" issue. To avoid this completely, make players have to go through at least two years of secondary schooling before they're allowed to declare for the draft. The price should not be an issue. If the player is truly good enough to play professionally, getting a scholarship to a school should not be an issue.
Without high school players involved in the draft, the draft could be cut down to 25 rounds or even 20 rounds. Currently, there is a slot value allotted for every pick in the draft. With a new format, the MLB could create an overall amount that each team can spent, similar to the amount that each team can spend with 40 rounds. This way, the teams have more money to negotiate with their players, and more contracts can be reached. They do not have to worry about a "slot value" that is assigned to the individual pick. But the rich cannot get richer. A first overall pick cannot be given over 10% of the team's overall amount. A team must reach a deal with, per se, 20 of 25 picks in order to be considered "fair." If not, a team can be fined or lose future draft picks.
However, if a contract is not reached, a player is given an amount of time to sign on with a different team. If a player cannot reach a deal with the team that drafts him, and he signs on elsewhere, the money he signs for counts against the new team's overall "draft spending" amount. But if a player cannot find any team to sign with, he cannot return to school.
Obviously, there is a lot more that could be "fixed" with the MLB Draft. Following the Aiken issue, I just felt that some ideas should be thrown out as to ways that the draft could be improved. I just think some things could be changed to avoid teams "using" players by pressuring them into signing smaller deals and whatnot. If the MLB made just a few small changes, they could get really big results. And that could really help the draft signing process.