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With MLB facing a fast-approaching fight over its expiring collective bargaining agreement, one of the most prominent figures on the labor side already knows what he wants changed.
Baseball super-agent Scott Boras made his annual address to reporters at MLB's general managers meetings on Wednesday, railing against an MLB competitive culture that saw a record-tying four 100-loss teams last season.
Boras pointed to MLB's current draft system — in which its worst teams can sign top young talent for capped signing bonuses — as a perverse incentive.
"We don't ever want a system that rewards being a lesser team. We have got a real cancer in this game. Now we know clubs will sacrifice seasons."
Scott Boras on the state of competition in baseball: pic.twitter.com/zT2RYm50wm
— SNY (@SNYtv) November 10, 2021
"The commerce of talent in any league should always be about acquisition of the best talent for positive reasons, and we have got a real cancer in our game that needs to be... that was not understood when the draft was capped. Nobody really understood, particularly in the commissioner's office, that draft picks meant so much to teams. Because they're not in the trenches of scouting, they don't really understand what value this has. Well, now we know.
"Now we know that clubs will just sacrifice seasons and say 'I'm not going to win, I'm not going to do things.' And players in the locker room, particularly young players, are sitting here saying ' I thought we're about winning, I thought we're about growing our particular team.' And fans are sitting there going 'Why are we doing that? Well, we have a good reason, we have a good reason because we want to get higher draft picks.' So we have to remove that element to really make the game back to being competitive day in and day out."
Before MLB instituted heavily limited signing bonus pools for draft picks, prospects had significantly more leverage when it came to joining teams that would control the first six-plus years of their MLB careers. Now, teams such as the 110-loss Arizona Diamondbacks can go into a draft knowing they will get a top talent at a cut-rate price.
Building through the draft (and international free agents) has become MLB's most cost-effective way of building a contender, but that comes with warts. As Boras says, a non-contending team is now incentivized to lose, or at least trade away every player making a sizable salary for prospects:
“It was a race to the bottom to get draft picks for many, many teams. … Return to a draft where cost certainty and the pick are not rewarded for losing.”
That leads to some surreal situations, such as the Atlanta Braves being able to add significant talent at the trade deadline from teams who would rather save some money and improve their draft position:
"We have seen the championship in 60 days," he said. "The rules allow them to be a less-than-.500 team at Aug. 1 and add four players, five players from teams that no longer wanted to compete and for very little cost change the entirety of their team and season.
"And we saw this unfold to the detriment of teams that create at vast expense, planning and intellect and won over 100 games. In doing all this, we have now created an understanding that a fan would not know who the true team is until, frankly, the trading deadline."
When asked how many teams are entering the 2022 season trying to win, Boras responded with a highly optimistic count of 17.
The draft will almost certainly see changes during this year's CBA negotiation, as will many other facets of the game.
Boras is hardly an impartial party when discussing potential tweaks, but it's also hard to point out where he's wrong.