UnitedHealthcare Health insurance that includes all Western PA hospitals
Thursday November 26 2015
Leave this field empty.

Plan, Interrupted

PSR Logo
Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires in December, and a new labor contract could lead to major changes in the amateur draft, affecting everything from how much cash teams can offer players, when those players sign, and whether clubs can swap picks.

If implemented,  those changes could have a major impact on the Pirates and how they approach the draft.

Hard Slotting
Robbie Grossman. Colton Cain. Stetson Allie. Clay Holmes. Josh Bell. What do these players have in common? All are top prospects in the Pirates’ system who fell in the draft due to signability concerns, but turned pro after receiving seven-figure bonuses. If “hard slotting” is part of the next CBA, however, fat checks after the first round will be a thing of the past.

Currently, the Major League Baseball's commissioner’s office gives teams recommended signing bonuses for each slot in the draft. But clubs can choose to pay players far more than the slot bonus to lure them away from college scholarships. Case in point: Bell, a switch-hitting outfielder with huge power, had a strong commitment to Texas that caused him to drop to the second round. But the Scott Boras client signed with the Pirates for $5 million.

The increase in draft spending (teams dished out a record $236 million in 2011) could cause Bud Selig to push for “hard” slots, meaning each draft spot would have a predetermined bonus that clubs couldn’t exceed.

What would hard slotting mean for the Pirates?

“It would be terrible,” Baseball America Executive Editor Jim Callis said, noting that Bell and Allie wouldn’t be in the Pirates organization if hard slotting existed. “The draft is the one area where small-market teams can compete with anyone. In the draft, if the Pirates want to go head-to-head with the Yankees, they can get a guy if they’re willing to spend. At the major league level, they can’t.”

The Pirates dished out a record $17 million in the draft this year, and no club has spent more on picks since GM Neal Huntington’s regime took over. Yet if some of those top prospects pan out, Pittsburgh will reap huge cost savings in the long run by having those players under team control for six seasons at modest salaries.

“It’s much cheaper for organizations to develop their own stars than to risk a six or seven-year contract on the free agent market,” said Marc Hulet, a minor league expert for Fangraphs.com. “Pittsburgh has risen from the ashes because the organization has embraced player development and the amateur draft.”

“It’s a philosophy that came together under this leadership group with the support of ownership,” Pirates Scouting Director Greg Smith said. “Being aggressive in the amateur draft has allowed for the influx of talent at a higher rate than the norm may allow… There are some markets that clubs cannot participate [in] competitively.”

Signing Deadline
In 2007, MLB instituted a mid-August signing deadline that was expected to get players on the field faster. But last-minute negotiations remain the norm.

“Most player agents and team officials don’t start negotiating until deadline day, so why wait two months?” Hulet said.

The commissioner’s office also exerts pressure on teams not to announce above-slot deals until the last minute, fearing that doing so earlier would increase players’ negotiating power.

“This robs the players of months of development and virtually forces them to begin their pro career the next season,” Hulet said.

An earlier deadline would allow players like first overall pick Gerrit Cole and Bell to quicken their paths toward Pittsburgh.

Trading Draft Picks
Unlike in the NFL, NBA and NHL, MLB teams can’t trade draft picks. Opinions are split on how swapping draft choices would affect competitive balance.

“I am for trading draft picks,” said Jim Bowden, former Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds GM and current ESPN analyst. “The more flexibility you give teams in player movement, the better.”

“There are people who think it would give teams a lot of flexibility,” Callis said. “If you didn’t want to invest in so-called unproven talent, you could trade [the pick] for an established big leaguer or more established prospects. But I’ve also talked to people who think it would allow agents to manipulate the draft.”

Callis used Cole, who was drafted by the Yankees with the 28th pick in the 2008 draft but chose to attend UCLA instead, as an example of how trading draft picks could lead to agents steering players toward big-market teams.

“The Yankees hypothetically could tell Cole, ‘Look, we can work it that if you get to us, we can give you a $20 million contract,’” Callis said. “Then what’s to stop Scott Boras from saying that Cole’s lifelong dream has been to be a Yankee, and he won’t play for anybody else?”

Callis thinks blockbuster trades would be rare, however.

“When Stephen Strasburg is out there, I think you’d have teams falling all over themselves to get him,” Callis said. But not necessarily for a pitcher like Cole, rated in the 15-20 range by Callis among minor league prospects rather than a generational talent.

“That’s good, but I don’t think you’d see teams giving up an Andrew McCutchen-caliber player in return,” he said.

Neil Walker’s contract expires after the 2016 season. The Pirates second baseman is due for a big raise in arbitration this offseason—likely to $10 million—and signing him to a long-term extension will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.
Editor's DeskFeature OneNorth Shore Notes
Belle Vernon junior wrestler Jarod Verkleeren has quietly become one of the most decorated athletes in the state.
Feature TwoHigh School
And then there was one. Fall 2015 marked the first chapter for Armstrong High School. The new school is the merger of Ford City and Kittanning high schools, which were only five miles away from each other.
Feature ThreeHSCOGOS2014
While the recruiting season is usually a time for top schools to scratch and claw for high school seniors, the 2015-16 Pitt Panthers have taken an alternate route.
Feature FourPitt Basketball
Full size video and summary... Misc YouTube Player 1 Steelers TV Channel
Full size video and summary... Misc YouTube Player 2Xfinity HS FootballHigh School TV Channel
Full size video and summary... Misc YouTube Player 3PSR Video PiratesPirates TV Channel
Trust the process. Say it with me. Breathe. It’s all part of the transition. Pitt basketball fans have repeated this mantra a lot over the past year.
Custom 1Pitt Basketball
Twenty-two years. That is the amount of time that elapsed between wins in the NCAA Tournament for Robert Morris University.
Custom 2Robert Morris
It’s the Duquesne Dukes 100th season for basketball this year and the pressure to do well is on the line.
Custom 3Duquesne
The McConnell family name casts a lofty shadow in Pittsburgh basketball circles.
Custom 4Robert MorrisTop Story