Moving Draft signing deadline a future topic
Since most top signings occur late, would earlier be better?
The Draft signing deadline process, to all parties involved, is a bit of a game. Everyone knows how it's played and everyone plays it.
What other choice is there? Teams want to sign their coveted players and get them into their systems. Advisers want to do right by their advisees, getting them signed while maximizing the dollars brought in via their signing bonuses.
With the top players -- either the first rounders or the ones who slid due to signability concerns -- who have yet to sign, the game gets squeezed into the final 48-72 hours before the deadline. In many cases, there's little to no communication between sides until now, with things getting intense right up against that midnight ET deadline, this year on Monday.
If that's the case, many around baseball have argued, why not move up the deadline? If the real negotiating doesn't take place until right before the deadline, why not have it on, say, July 15?
"I am all for moving up the deadline, but nothing is going to happen until 2012," one American League scouting director said. "I expect significant changes in the Draft to be part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement."
It's true that no changes to the Draft process are likely to be made until the next CBA is agreed upon -- the current one expires in December 2011 -- and most of the Draft-related focus will likely be centered around bonus slotting. But there are several reasons why teams would be in favor of truncating the signing period even further.
The biggest, and most often mentioned, advantage, would be the potential of getting players into systems more quickly. If a player signs on Aug. 15 or 16, he'll usually go to the Instructional League and perhaps play in a few games somewhere before the season ends. With a July 15 deadline, even a player who waits to the very end to sign can get six weeks of professional experience under his belt.
"I think the important thing is getting them out and playing," a second American League scouting director said. "It's proven out over the last couple of years, people are going to wait to the deadline and they're going to get more money at the deadline. What's the harm in getting those players six weeks of playing time? Colleges would be happier also."
Sounds like a win-win, right? College programs will know who will be returning and who won't be sooner and would have more time to adjust accordingly. Teams would get a nice look at their players and start them earlier with professional instruction. Players and advisers could still use the deadline's line in the sand to push the bonus figures up.
Alas, it's not that simple, not even at the college level. While a change in the deadline won't hurt any and could indeed help some programs have time to find another player for a roster, the benefits might not be all that profound. Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin has lost his share of top recruits and points out that the players who are waiting until the deadline to sign won't be easily replaced in terms of what their contributions might have been to the program.
"In terms of acquiring a player, you're not going to replace someone like Ryan Westmoreland in a month," said Corbin, referring to his recruit who signed with the Red Sox at the 2008 signing deadline. "It might matter to some schools, where they can attract a junior-college player at that time. But you won't replace the talent as much as the number [on the roster].
"It might give you the chance to use your scholarship money for someone else on your team, so you can balance that a little bit. But I think it will benefit pro baseball more."
Even that is more complex than it seems. While nearly all on the team side of things would likely support a change, they recognize that a move alone won't fix all of the Draft's ailments, nor is it likely to be approved in a vacuum.
"The deadline must be married with some of the other changes," a National League scouting director said. "I don't have an exact answer on the date itself, but I do think the hard slotting and the signing deadline, they are kind of parallel."
If there's hard slotting, of course, the need for an extended negotiation period is nullified. Time should be given to allow the young players to make an informed decision about their futures, but if all sides go into the situation knowing what kind of bonus will be offered, there'll be no reason to drag things out.
There is an assumption that the one side of the business that would oppose a deadline move would be the ones negotiating the bonuses. Sure, agents use the deadline to their advantage and an argument can be made that the more time drags on and the deadline approaches more rapidly, the more successful their attempts to drive up prices might be.
However, in the few years since the deadline was moved to Aug. 15 (or the Monday following if it lands on a weekend), it's become fairly standard practice for everyone to wait. It's a surprise to no one on either side, then, when nothing happens until the 11th hour. If that's the case, wouldn't a hard deadline at any date work? At least one agent thinks that's largely the case.
"If you wait a little bit longer, you know you're going to get more," the agent said. "But for me, a deadline's a deadline. What's the difference? I guess you could lose the threat of going to the Cape [Cod League] and making some money."
The ability to play summer ball is a two-way street, the agent says. The time from the June Draft to mid-August is often used by the teams to evaluate, just as much as it might be used by the player, with a strong performance in a summer league increasing his value. Would teams lose the benefit of that time when it comes to taking a chance on tough signs? Would they be just as likely to take chances with a month cut out of the ability to see more of what they might pay for?
"I don't think it's good for teams to make it earlier," the agent suggested. "Even teams that pay a lot like to have time on their hands to get to know a guy if they're going to spend money.
"When there are good names on the board with signability issues, a team might take him. If that time gets cut in half, it can help our side. It gives teams less flexibility because they don't have the time to follow them over the summer. It will force a little more concentration on scouting during the season and less on taking a flier on a guy and see how he progresses."
To that second AL scouting director, that's really a non-issue. He does freely admit, though, that whatever change is made, a flawless system is likely never going to be a reality.
"I don't think it would take that option away," the scouting director said about the summer draft-and-follow. "It would certainly shorten the time period you can do it. But if a kid plays over the summer, it gives you plenty of time.
"There's never going to be a perfect world. There's going to be pluses or minuses to anything we do."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.