February 14, 2009

2009 Would Be a Good Year to Ignore the Slotting System

Of course, every year would be a good year to ignore MLB's slotting system. It's a poorly constructed quasi-salary cap arbitrarily imposed, albeit not well enforced, by the Commissioner's office. The slotting system also manages the impressive double whammy of harming both the amateur players and the clubs not smart or independent enough to just pretend the stupid thing doesn't exist. Well-run clubs negotiate with their draftees while paying little more than lip service to Bud Selig's misbegotten monstrosity. Cheap clubs use it as an excuse not to sign expensive talent (which is probably the only thing keeping it alive). However, all that may be about to change.

Per the always excellent Shysterball, a judge in Ohio has overturned an NCAA rule that prohibits collegiate athletes from retaining the services of a professional advisor to assist in negotiating contracts. (As a side note, the plaintiff in the case, OSU lefthanded pitcher Andy Oliver, is a potential selection for the Nats at pick 10 this June.) The decision is abundantly reasonable, and frankly this is one of a host of NCAA regs that probably ought to have been invalidated by a court about five minutes after they were enacted.

The decision doesn't touch directly on the MLB draft, but as The Common Man notes, you can see a path from dismantling the NCAA's amateur athletic rules to challenging the structure of the professional entry drafts for the major sports. When the cult of "amateur athletics" finally surrenders the last of its mythos, the structures that have kept young athletes subservient to the leagues and players unions of which they aren't even members will likely begin to decay in short order.

Imagine a world where talented young players negotiates with the Yankees, Dodgers, Pirates and Twins on the open market, playing off one against the other. There are obvious downsides to this free market utopia. Baseball does have a history of allowing a few teams to horde young talent while smaller market clubs acted as mere feeder systems for the big boys. But there are ways to address those imbalances among the teams without consigning amatuers to indentured servitude.

All of which is to say the Nats would be smart to take the best possible advantage of having the first and tenth overall picks, and the top second, third and fourth round picks, etc. this season. Both because no Nats fan wants them to have a high draft pick again anytime soon, and because the opportunity afforded the club in this June's draft may be on the verge of extinction sooner than any of us expected.

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