Much has been made of the HGH blood testing which, while significant in that it demonstrates a mutual commitment to put baseball in the forefront of ridding its sport of performance-enhancing drugs, it is mostly symbolic. Random HGH blood testing has been in effect for two years in the minor leagues, but because of the short window for accuracy, only one player has tested positive. If nothing else, though, it should serve as another deterrent for those players still seeking to get that extra edge.
Meanwhile, what initially kind of got lost in the new agreement amid all the hullabaloo over the HGH testing are the sweeping changes to the amateur draft, and the players’ gains in free-agent compensation and arbitration, all of which were the core issues that got resolved. The owners, especially those of the lower-revenue clubs, had pushed for a hard slotting system in the draft, with affixed money limits on each pick through the first 10 rounds that could not be surpassed.
They didn’t get it, but what they did get was overall cost containment in the draft, in which the clubs will have individual overall annual spending thresholds for the first 10 rounds, determined by their draft position and the number of picks they have, and will be subject to luxury-tax penalties of 75% and the loss of a first-round pick on amounts up to 5%-10% they surpass their threshold and 100% and the loss of a first- and second-round pick for going 10%-15% over that threshold.
Not surprisingly, the most vocal critic of this new system was Scott (Avenging Agent) Boras — who has feasted on the draft, extracting record bonuses from the clubs for his amateur clients year after year.
“This will hurt all of baseball,” Boras told USA Today. “There have to be some amendments made to it because it dramatically impacts the game. It goes against the revenue-sharing concept. This dramatically affects parity. . . . Now if you’re Tampa Bay and if you win you get to spend half as much as the Chicago Cubs do in the draft. It makes no sense.”
As usual, Boras is twisting the facts to suit his own means. The whole purpose of the draft is to give teams that finished at the bottom of the standings a chance to improve themselves by getting higher picks. It’s why the Tampa Bay Rays, long baseball doormats, are winning now. Those same lower-revenue teams Boras is crying for now are the ones who many times opted to pass over his clients in an unregulated draft, thus compromising their high picks for more affordable but lower-rated players.
And, by the way, the new agreement does have extra provisions for the small market clubs regardless of where they draft. The bottom six revenue clubs will also receive extra sandwich picks between the first and second rounds — picks they can trade if they wish — which will be accounted for in their overall threshold number.
But the one draft revision in the new agreement — which also went under the radar in Monday’s joint press conference but which was surely a dagger into Boras’ heart — was the elimination of major-league contracts for amateur players. Major league contracts have long been Boras’ primary negotiating weapon in holding clubs hostage with their high draft picks. With a major league contract, a player’s clock toward arbitration and free agency started immediately. Now, with clubs prohibited from giving major league contracts, they have ensured themselves an extra three years of control on all their draft picks before they have to be put on the 40-man major league roster.
And speaking of clocks, it was equally significant for the clubs to get the signing deadline moved to July 15 from Aug. 15. This will enable the draft picks to begin their professional careers almost immediately and not waste a year because of prolonged negotiations by agents such as Boras, whose primary concern has always been the bonus over the career. (See: Jason Varitek, who might have been a Hall of Famer had he not delayed his career two years waiting for Boras to get him a suitable bonus.)
Boras further grumped that there isn’t a general manager in the game who likes these revisions to the draft and maintained it will drive elite amateur players to other sports. While one major league executive conceded the drag on bonuses could in fact prompt many of the two-sport stars to opt for basketball or football, he added: “For years, almost any kid over 6-6 playing basketball and baseball we haven’t been getting anyway. Same thing with kids 250 pounds or over in football.” And another exec asked: “How many teenage kids go out for sports in high school thinking, ‘Where do I get the most bonus money?’ ”
There is no question that GMs are going to be forced to be more creative in how they spend their draft threshold money and, very likely, w ith the smaller bonuses, more high school players will opt for college scholarships. But given the greater monetary risk and projection uncertainty with high school players, that may not be a bad thing either.