Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Get While The Gettin' Is Good

Steven Matz is the property of the New York Mets today, foregoing a college scholarship to sign a minor league deal that including a signing bonus of nearly $900,000. Mets fans should be excited today; although the bonus was lower than what Matz was reportedly demanding, it was still beyond the commissioner's office recommendation for a second-round pick.

The amateur draft, as currently consitituted, has begun tilting the playing field toward large-market clubs like the Mets. I expect that shift will be corrected in the next collective bargaining agreement, but for now high-revenue clubs should be increasing their spending on the amateur draft. The ability to give out higher bonuses means the ability to sign high-level talent that the cheaper and more cowardly teams pass on because of "signability concerns."

The Mets are risking the wrath of the commissioner's office by signing Matz; ownership should expect an angry phone call or email from one of Bud Selig's minions in the coming weeks. Who cares? MLB cannot punish teams in any way for ignoring slot recommendations, so a few hurt feelings is a small price to pay for improving your franchise.

The more interesting negotiations took place in the nation's capital, where the former Montreal Expos finally signed San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg to a four-year, $15 million deal. The negotiations went down to the final minutes, but the Nationals got their man and Strasburg got the richest deal in the amateur draft's history.

Everyone is professing to be happy with the deal, of course, but if you scratch the surface it would seem to me that Strasburg should be the only one smiling. He's a multimillionaire today, based on three years of dominance in the Mountain West Conference. He could blow out his arm tomorrow and be financially set for life.

The Nationals are taking on an enormous financial risk - there's no guarantee that Strasburg will be an effective major league pitcher, no matter how good he was in college. Washington is one of the many teams in baseball that simply cannot paper over a $15 million bust - a fact not lost on most owners.

Stasburg's agent Scott Boras exploits the inefficiencies of the amateur draft system as well as anybody, but he understands that his commission would've been a lot larger today if his client was on the open market. It would be bad for baseball, of course - imagine the Yankees having already signed Strasburg and any other first-round pick they so desired! - but Boras's job is getting his clients (and himself) paid, not competitive balance.

The MLB Players Association can't be too happy either. Strasburg will be a member of their club soon enough, but the MLBPA has greater obligations to its current membership. In a year where veterans like Frank Thomas, Jon Lieber and Jim Edmonds couldn't get a job in baseball, it has to rankle union membership that a college kid who hasn't even thrown a pitch in the minor leagues has gotten a four-year deal at nearly $4 million per year.

Like I said earlier, I expect the next CBA negotiations will keenly focus on the amateur draft, since the system is only rewarding high school and college players who are still a long way from The Show.

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