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MLB.com's article on slotting of draft picks is a propaganda piece

Dec 16, 2009, 9:04 AM EDT

Thumbnail image for stephen strasburg jersey.jpgSo far, MLB.com’s “Fixing the Draft” series has been just fine. It dealt with the issues of an international draft and trading picks fairly straight up, presenting the pros and cons as most people understand them.  Today’s entry, however — on the potential imposition of a hard slotting system for draft picks — is a propaganda piece, the sort of which many of us feared we’d see a lot of when MLB.com launched, but which has been more or less absent. This one, however, is a piece of journalistic malpractice.

At the outset, lets make sure we all know what we’re talking about here. “Slotting” refers to the practice — non-biding at present — in which a team pays a drafted player a bonus on
where he’s taken in the Draft. Currently, MLB makes suggestions as to what the picks should get. Some teams heed the suggestions, some do
not. There really is no penalty for exceeding slot except for drawing the ire of Bud Selig. There is anecdotal evidence that MLB punishes teams who exceed slot, but no one is really sure.

The owners — and most people who watch, but don’t really understand the draft — would like to institute “hard slotting,” which would impose NBA-style mandatory bonuses for each pick. The negotiation process would be over: you get picked first, you $X, and if you don’t like it you can go play for the St. Paul Saints.  Personally, I disagree with hard slotting because I’m a fan of the free market and don’t see why billionaire owners need to impose such a beast when, in an average year, each team pays a total of $6 million — Pudge Rodriguez money — to its entire slate of draft picks. But that’s a big topic, so let’s save my ranting on that for another day.

Today, let’s ask this: why was no one from the Players Association quoted for this article? This would seem to be pretty critical, because just two weeks ago, the new head of the Players Association — in response to my question, I must egotistically add — revealed for the first time that the union considers the term “hard slotting” to be synonymous with “salary cap,” and we all know how the union feels about salary caps. It fights them. To the death. And no matter what conciliatory things Mike Weiner might say about everything being on the table come 2011, you can bet your bippy that nothing the union refers to as a “salary cap” will be negotiable.

You’d think that little fact would be relevant to today’s article. I mean, how can the pros and cons of hard slotting be complete when one of the cons is that implementing it would foment an ugly labor battle that risks a work stoppage?

Without the players’ hard opposition to hard slotting, the article serves as mere owner propaganda. Propaganda, I’m going to guess, that will have the effect of making the union’s eventual active opposition to hard slotting seem more unreasonable and unexpected than it really is (“But this has been discussed for years, why are you just complaining now . . . “)

Bad form, MLB.com.  Talk to Mike Weiner. Ask him what he thinks of hard slotting and re-run the calculus.    

  1. soxfan17881 - Dec 16, 2009 at 9:39 AM

    I thought that there was some amiability toward slotting from the players assoc. because huge bonuses for unproven talent essentially take dollars away from proven players who are free agents. Is this not something the PA considers?

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 16, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    There certainly had been, soxfan. A lot of players had made comments recently about not really caring. But after the last union meeting two weeks ago, Weiner’s position was clear: the union is against it. I take that to mean that those who felt differently were voted down.
    Take issue with the union’s solidarity when it comes to issues like this, but it has always worked for them in the past.

  3. BCTF - Dec 16, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    Unions rarley look out for the best interest of their members.

  4. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 16, 2009 at 9:53 AM

    That’s complete BS. Ask a coal miner who no longer has to assume an 85% probability of losing a limb or worse in a dark cave. Ask a ballplayer who makes multiple times more than players did even 20 years ago.
    Unions aren’t perfect. No institution is. But to make a claim like yours is to show an astounding amount of ignorance about labor issues.

  5. Bill@TDS - Dec 16, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    Amen. Not to mention spelling issues.

  6. BCTF - Dec 16, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    Ask any unemployed auto worker in Detroit how he thinks about unions.

  7. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Dec 16, 2009 at 10:23 AM

    because huge bonuses for unproven talent essentially take dollars away from proven players who are free agents. Is this not something the PA considers?

    What “huge bonuses” have been handed out? The largest contract signed through the draft is a four or five year deal for $15M by Strasburg. Brandon Lyon just signed a three deal for $15M. Jason Kendall, as Klaw notes, is the only person in MLB history to have a negative ISO, just signed a two year deal for $6M (more than almost all drafties get). Pudge also got 2/$6M.
    The idea of “huge bonuses” signed by these players hurting clubs and/or MLB is just as much a farce as what BCTF is saying.

  8. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 16, 2009 at 10:24 AM

    Being from Flint, Michigan and having many family and friends currently in (and recently laid off from) the auto industry, I can tell you with absolute certainty that their opinions on the UAW are quite complicated.
    On the one hand, many if not most of them owe their entire upbringings and any prosperity they have ever had in their life to the work the UAW did in the 20th century. At the same time, many are angry — though only after the fact — at how much the UAW overreached over the years, helping to bring down the domestic auto industry. At the same time, there are some auto workers — even some who have been laid off — who still hold their union in high esteem and blame the trouble on the competitive missteps of the Big Three over the past 30 years, many of which (shock!) had nothing to do with bending over for the union.
    In short, it’s complicated. The UAW screwed up an awful lot of things. In some ways they were too focused on looking out for its membership’s interests. But no matter the case, their opinions do not support your ignorant, blanket statement that unions “rarely look out for their members’ interests.”

  9. BCTF - Dec 16, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    Unions were useful at a point in American history but now are pointless for the most part. They take a cut of the workers earnings and do very little with it. They encourage mediocrity and discourage hard work. They are a big reason why many of these manufacturing business are going over seas

  10. Jeff - Dec 16, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    They encourage mediocrity and discourage hard work.
    Wanna tell that to my mother, who teaches special ed reading in a dying mill city? She’s been working there for 10+ years, does not make very much money, but works her ass off every day (and sure as hell works more hours than most non-Union people). Or really, any other teacher?
    They are a big reason why many of these manufacturing business are going over seas
    Yeah because they insist on paying their workers a living wage, and providing basic benefits. Other countries don’t have the same workplace safety standards and they sure as hell can pay their employees whatever they want.

  11. Pete Toms - Dec 16, 2009 at 1:36 PM

    Selig “whacks the pee pees” of clubs that go “over slot” by not having MLB “sign off” on the deals til the last possible minute. This delays the draftee’s entry into the world of affiliated ball and maybe stunts their development a tiny bit.
    Yes, there has been plenty of squawking amongst vets over “signing bonuses” for “unproven” rookies but the notion that there will be a direct transfer to vets from rookies if signing bonuses are reduced is false. Supply and demand sets the value of veterans (and rookies for that matter). Tony Clark is one who has spoken out on this.
    I think MLB wants to “fix” the draft in an attempt to improve “competitive imbalance”. I agree with Craig (and others), the amount of money doled out in the draft is relatively minor (although the money that MLB spends on player development is an issue for the owners, but another time) but there is a general consensus that the worst teams don’t often enough get the best player (or equal value). This is what most teams want to address, the money is of lesser concern.

  12. Pete Toms - Dec 16, 2009 at 1:36 PM

    Selig “whacks the pee pees” of clubs that go “over slot” by not having MLB “sign off” on the deals til the last possible minute. This delays the draftee’s entry into the world of affiliated ball and maybe stunts their development a tiny bit.
    Yes, there has been plenty of squawking amongst vets over “signing bonuses” for “unproven” rookies but the notion that there will be a direct transfer to vets from rookies if signing bonuses are reduced is false. Supply and demand sets the value of veterans (and rookies for that matter). Tony Clark is one who has spoken out on this.
    I think MLB wants to “fix” the draft in an attempt to improve “competitive imbalance”. I agree with Craig (and others), the amount of money doled out in the draft is relatively minor (although the money that MLB spends on player development is an issue for the owners, but another time) but there is a general consensus that the worst teams don’t often enough get the best player (or equal value). This is what most teams want to address, the money is of lesser concern.

  13. Alex Poterack - Dec 16, 2009 at 4:49 PM

    I’m no *expert* on labor issues, but I think it would be fair to say that unions tend to look out for the union’s best interest, which often but not always coincides with workers’ best interests. To tie it back to baseball, it’s sort of like Scott Boras’s interests and his client’s interests.

  14. Alex - Dec 16, 2009 at 6:31 PM

    This is incredibly unfair to Jonathan Mayo, the author of the article. He is a good and forthright journalist for MiLB.com, and saying it is “propaganda” because he didn’t interview Michael Weiner indicates that you had your mind made up before you even read it. The front office people he interviewed, the people who actually deal in the draft, explained an array of pros and cons with hard slotting, as it pertains to it’s stated goal: evenly distributing amateurs to assist competitive balance. He ends with a player’s perspective.
    That the Players’ Association might find it anti-free-market is irrelevant. ALL drafts subvert the free market; that’s their whole point. He could have talked about that if he wanted to, sure, but doing so would be tangential to his point.
    You can do better, Shyster. Just because you’re now your a professional sportswriter doesn’t mean you need to turn off your brain and deal in knee jerk reactions.

  15. James - Dec 16, 2009 at 11:02 PM

    How hard could have it been to get Michael Weiner’s thoughts on the subject though? If Craig who writes for a NBC blog (no offense I love it), can get Weiner’s thoughts, Mayo who writes for the OFFICIAL MLB website surely has the means to. That he didn’t speaks volumes about the viewpoint the piece was aiming for.

  16. Alex - Dec 17, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    That he didn’t quote one specific person, a person who has incredibly little to do with the draft, mind you, does not make it a propaganda piece. I find that suggestion preposterous.
    The article was about how slotting would affect the distribution of talent, and it was not addressing the prima facie anti-free market status of the draft. The former is not Mike Weiner’s domain.

  17. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 17, 2009 at 9:51 AM

    The previous articles in this series discuss whether the specific proposals (i.e. international draft; trading picks) would be feasible both in terms of implementation and in terms of practice. This one gives feasibility of implementation a complete miss. Not a word to it. It’s overwhelmingly weighted towards talking about how wonderful slotting would be.
    I don’t care who he quotes, but to ignore the fact that the union is so recently and so strongly on record against such a proposal is to miss a huge part of the story. If this is mere oversight, it’s a gigantic oversight that, intentionally or not, serves the owners’ purposes in the p.r. and labor battle that will be waged over this issue.

  18. Alex - Dec 18, 2009 at 12:04 PM

    I don’t care if you disagree with his thesis and wish he had written an article focusing on a separate aspect of the issue (I even partially agree with you on those); calling it propaganda for that reason is incredibly disrespectful to Jonathan Mayo, who is a very good and fair journalist.
    If this EXACT article was written my Maury Brown you wouldn’t even think of leveling that accusation.

  19. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 18, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    You’ll note that I didn’t even mention Mayo’s name in the piece. It’s not my intention to slam him personally. This article is poor, however, in that it lacks critical information on the subject. And I would say the same thing if Maury Brown or Rob Neyer or anyone else wrote it. If I wrote it and someone called me out on this point I would followup with an apology for such an oversight and update the article.
    However, the fact that an article with such an omission comes from the website that is owned by the same people who have a reason to downplay the information that was omitted renders it even more suspect than if it had come from a different outlet.

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