Rethinking the MLB draft

How appropriate is it that baseball came back this year on Easter, a holiday of rebirth? In his classic “Centerfield,” John Fogarty captures the idea of Opening Day perfectly in the lyric, “We’re born again/There’s new grass on the field.”

Speaking of renewal, Major League Baseball is thinking about revisiting it’s international player selection guidelines.  Currently, American players enter professional baseball through a draft just like in any other sport, but international players are signed as free agents. This winter, that system manifested itself in ball clubs going on a Cuban spending spree like cigar aficionados on a weekend trip to Montreal.

Naturally the owners want an international draft so they don’t have to drop millions in signing bonuses (boni?) to unproven players. But Fox Sports columnist Rob Neyer has a better idea: MLB teams should sign domestic players the way they sign international players.

This is better for a couple of reasons. As Neyer points out, the current draft system punishes success: if you win every year, you pick lower. It also sucks for the players. If a team drafts you, you either have to sign or sit out a year. Giving teams a certain allotment for signings and then making everyone a free agent maintains competitive balance while still allowing winning teams to bring in top talent.

And honestly, for MLB fans, wouldn’t this be better? It’s the perfect mix of simple and arcane. Baseball isn’t a TV sport like football, but it’s the perfect sport for a 24-hour news cycle. Neyer’s plan would fill out the winter with constant updates on courting and signing amateur players alongside trade rumors and free agent news.

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