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The Pros and Cons of Trading Draft Picks

Dec 15, 2009, 9:55 AM EDT

Thumbnail image for stephen strasburg jersey.jpgDay two of MLB.com’s “Fixing the Draft” series deals with something for which just about everybody has advocated in some fashion in recent years: trading draft picks.

While the article is set up as a pro-con piece, the pros get about 90% of the space, with the only real cons cited being that (a) a team may just decide to punt the draft over time out of cheapness, thus depriving it of the one tool it has at its disposal to replenish its talent base; and (b) the rich teams will consistently trade for the top picks, allowing them to monopolize the amateur draft.

But these aren’t real dangers. For starters, as Keith Law pointed out in his comprehensive analysis of trading picks last summer (sorry, Insider only), teams are contractually obligated to field short-season clubs and they need bodies to fill roster spots in the low minors, so it’s not like anyone is going to punt their whole draft. As for trading away early round picks: teams can already do that via free-agent signings and do so all the time. The smart teams will keep early picks when it makes sense and trade them when they’re being overwhelmed with good offers from other teams. It’s a self-policing process for all but the truly moronic teams out there, and they were beyond help anyway.

And no, those overwhelming offers from the Yankees of the world won’t begin to dominate the draft. Why? There always has been and always will be a huge number of draft busts. That’s just how baseball works: the talent is so far from the majors when it’s selected, the odds of even the highest picks turning into major league studs is pretty damn low.

If the Yankees trade stuff to pick high in the draft enough times, they’re going to
experience diminishing returns, taking two or three guys like Matt Bush for every Stephen Strasburg (and Strasburg could be a bust too — we don’t know yet).  When this happens, eventually the Yankees are going to stop
trading so much and so often for these picks. Indeed, because the Yankees are smart, they’ll realize this from the beginning and won’t have to learn the hard way.

Ultimately I can see very little downside to the trading of picks. It gives teams flexibility. It would stir up more excitement in the draft itself. Moreover, it would likely have some depressive effects on draft bonuses due to the fact that top players may not demand huge bonuses to scare away the undesirable franchises from selecting them.

Upshot: I can see the players agreeing to this change in the 2011 CBA, and I think it will happen.

  1. Ron - Dec 15, 2009 at 10:23 AM

    I’d like to see this, but with some control over it. Not like what the NFL and NBA do.
    1. No retrading of picks. If you trade for a pick, you can’t then trade that pick to another team later.
    2. Scale it in. Liimit it to the first 10 picks the first year. Then increase it by 5 picks per year until the entire first round is covered. Then increase it by rounds upto the 10th round and cap it after that. Do we really need a team trading a 62nd round draft choice as part of a package? And it would end up happening.
    3. No trading beyond next year. Force the issue. You can trade next year’s draft pick, but not subsequent years. How many times have we seen teams in other sports ruin their franchise this way? Keep common sense involved.
    4. Limit the number of picks per year that a team can trade. Say no more than 3 per year, for a 3-year. Then reevaluate it after that and see if something different is better.
    That’s just my opinion. I’m sure I’m wrong.

  2. Dave - Dec 15, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    Ron –
    What is your reasons for #1? If a team acquires an asset they should be able to use that as they see fit. If you can talk a team out of a pick for a crappy MRP and then deal that pick for a stud prospect why shouldn’t a GM be able make that second trade?
    #2 – Why should some teams receive a bargaining chip while others do not? I don’t understand the phased in aspect, either do it or don’t. What do we care if a team trades a 50th round pick (there’s only 50 rounds)?
    #3 I don’t understand your logic for #3. A team should be able to trade picks for multiple years down the road. If the Phillies wanted to give the Blue Jays their first round pick for the next 5 years for Doc; and then Doc blows out his arm… that’s on the Phillies. Rules shouldn’t be put into place to prevent GMs from doing dumb things, owners should hire smart GMs.
    #4 Again, I am against rules that prevent teams from running their teams as they see fit. If a team wants to abandon the draft then so be it. If it fails, so will the team and hopefully a new brain trust will hired to do the right thing.
    I can see the merit behind some of your suggestions; I just disagree.

  3. Old Gator - Dec 15, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    I was just speaking with Wissey Jones, veteran grade school scout for the Borg. He tells me that those prospects whose parents sign them over to the Borg right out of elementary school, have them microchipped and equipped with ankle transmitters that relay information on their blood chemistry and one week intervals, completely isolate them from malign influences like television, radio, hip-hop, video games and horsement and velveeta sandwiches, subject them to a rigorous conditioning program like the ones that Venus and Serena got (but without the hormone treatments), they can reasonably predict which of them are going to become major league material by the time they reach AAA. Will they be soulless? Of course. But if they had souls they wouldn’t look all that good in pinstripes anyway.

  4. Ron - Dec 15, 2009 at 12:23 PM

    Dave,
    1) no particular reason to it, it’s just what I would like to see. When you start allowing multiple trades of any draft pick, it gets too hard to follow and no one knows what is happening. Yeah, I know the MLB office will have some gopher tracking it, but the fans don’t know, and I still think the game is for the fans. Let us be able to follow it without a computer program to track it. Again, no reason. Just what I would like to see.
    2) The laws of physics. For every action, there is an overreaction. Whatever can be done, can be overdone, and in baseball, that’s the mantra, it seems. Again, just my opinion. But the idea behind the draft was to ensure the worst teams got help to make a more competitive balance. It would only take 6 years for the all the teams to be able to do this, and help the perenial losers without hurting the better teams that much. I just personally like the idea of phasing it in. Help the Royals/Pirates/Nationals etc. I should have stated that the teams allowed to trade picks can trade them to any team, but teams such as the Yankees or Phillies wouldn’t be able to trade thier picks at first, which are at the tail end of the first round anyhow. But the lower teams could trade their picks up to any team.
    3. the only example I have is where some teams in the NBA and NFL have traded 1st/2nd round picks years into the future for players that were busts. Then they don’t have the players or the picks. Hard to build a competitive team that way. This keeps some Jim Bowden-type clone (I didn’t say Brian Sabean) from trading his top picks for the next 10 years for marginal, over the hill players who don’t produce anymore. Sometimes, the GM’s need to be protected from themselves. Maybe two years, but I prefer the next year only. This should actually be my number 1.
    4. same as number 3. Some GM will get trade happy and end up screwing his team worse than he would have without this option. Or trade all of his veteran players for a bunch of 1st round draft picks. You know, Dayton Moore is rebuilding the Royals farm systems. How many 1st/2nd rounders would he get for Butler/Callaspo/Meche/DeJesus, etc? Then he could rebuild the system and the Royals would be a better team much sooner than using a bunch of old veterans who can’t get on base.
    It’s all negotiable, obviously, but my thinking is it should all be phased in somehow. Not just thrown out there like the other leagues use. Baseball is different, with different criteria for thier draft. And if it is truly to help the competitive balance, there are some teams that need a lot of help. A couple of years wouldn’t hurt the better teams, and would help the worse ones.
    I don’t follow the draft anymore, I just remember Piazza was a 62nd round pick, or someting. I’ll have to stay more current.

  5. RobRob - Dec 15, 2009 at 12:23 PM

    I’m not sure why allowing the trading of draft picks would prevent draftees from demanding high bonuses to scare off the unworthy bottom-feeding franchises. Wouldn’t they be more inclined to force the issue with high demands by telling the drafting team to trade the pick instead?

    For example, say there’s a hypothetical player named J.D. The Phillies want to draft him but he wants to play for the Cardinals. Couldn’t he just tell the Phillies that they’ll have to pay him $10M to sign, so if they don’t like it, they can trade the pick to the Cardinals instead?

    As it stands now, the draftee may make high demands to scare off one or two teams, but he’ll have to fall a long way through the draft (i.e., scare off a lot of teams) to get to the teams picking 20-30. With pick-trading, those preferable teams may trade up and therefore the draftee would only have to fall a few picks instead. Seems like pick-trading would make it easier for draftees to steer themselves to the more preferred team.

  6. Ron - Dec 15, 2009 at 1:28 PM

    None of my ideas would be set in stone. They would be the first part a new idea, and should be reviewable in 5 years or so to rework them as needed.

  7. Honeywell Oil Heater - Jan 28, 2010 at 10:45 PM

    I really enjoy reading the articles on this blog. I’ll bookmark this so I can read more later.

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