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MLB's effort to limit draft bonuses bound to fail

Maury Chass reports that Major League Baseball is putting the screws to the owners to keep signing bonuses down this year:

Bud Selig has repeatedly cautioned clubs about the economy, and at the owners' meeting last Thursday he told them he was doing something about it and sternly advised them to listen. The commissioner told the owners that his office planned to roll back the recommended signing bonuses for the June 9 amateur draft by 10 percent . . . The clubs will get their rolled back numbers this week. The slotting system is confidential, and clubs aren't supposed to know what figures other clubs are allotted.

As Chass notes, the slotting system -- which is intended to hold down signing bonuses -- is pretty ineffective as a collusion device. Owners routinely ignore it when it's in their best interests to do so, and with a guy like Stephen Strasburg sitting out there this year -- I can't imagine that even a normally Selig-compliant team like the Nats are going to let him go due to some misguided adherence to Commissioner Bud.

In light of the fact that the slotting system is being increasingly ignored, one has to wonder why baseball sticks with it to begin with. While Strasburg may break the bank this year, he's a rare talent. Usually even the top picks aren't going to command what he might get this year, rendering the savings brought on by even an adhered-to slotting system rather paltry in the grand scheme of things. Teams spend millions more on the international amateur market, and no one is trying to "slot" those guys (not that you really could). Moreover, while teams have gotten better at navigating free agency in recent years, there is far more money being wasted on signing veterans like the Gary Matthews and Juan Pierre's of the world than on high school pitchers. Sure, baseball can't do anything to interfere in the veteran free agent market -- tried that once; didn't work -- but given how much money is thrown around out there, trying to force teams to economize on the draft seems like a waste of time.

Not that something shouldn't be done about the draft. Some teams still do adhere to slotting -- many because certain ownership groups feel beholden to Selig, I believe -- and by doing so, they mess up the notion of the top talent going to the teams that need it the most, thereby preventing the lowly from getting better. Since the Players' Union would never agree to a mandatory slotting system, it strikes me that the best way to handle things would be to allow teams to swap draft picks so that a team who can't or simply doesn't want to spent $10 million the best player available can actually get something in return for the right to pick him.

I don't think many things the NFL does are worth emulating, but trading picks seems like a good idea.

(Chass link via BTF)