As most people know, the MLB draft is quite different than those of the other major sports. The NBA and NHL both have draft lotteries rather than basing the draft order strictly on the standings. The NFL and NHL drafts are full of trades, and this is the topic that I would like to focus on.
The first reason for allowing the trade of draft picks is competitive balance. Signability should not be an issue when bottom-feeding teams are trying to rebuild through the draft. Signing bonuses have gotten to the point where small market teams cannot afford to draft the best player available when it is their turn to draft. A prime example of this is when Matt Bush was drafted first overall by the San Diego Padres. The hometown kid was selected not because he was the best talent available, but because the Padres knew they would be able to sign him. This left talents like Justin Verlander, Philip Humber and Stephen Drew on the table for other teams. Bush was a complete wash-out as a short stop and tried to convert to pitching before legal problems ended his baseball career.
This year, Stephen Strasburg is the can’t-miss prospect of a lifetime. Unable to trade the pick, the Nationals are going to have to cave to the contract demands of agent Scott Boras. Even a prospect like Strasburg is not without risk, and the Nationals could be sinking a lot of money into a failed investment. They cannot even draft and trade him, as teams must wait one year to trade any player they have drafted. Is this the ideal situation for the Nationals? Of course not. I think the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox would give the Nats a king’s ransom for the right to draft Strasburg. This package of prospects would help the Nationals rebuild their 21st ranked farm system, and would also make sense financially.
The second reason is entertainment and exposure. The MLB draft does not get nearly as much exposure as the other leagues, mainly in part because the players will not become immediate stars in the big leagues. There are no Lebron James or Sidney Crosby’s. Imagine the popularity of a draft where the Yankees made a draft day trade with the Nationals, and Strasburg became a part of the Evil Empire. It is entirely possible that this would make the Internet explode.
Baseball would benefit from the increased exposure of the new draft. The Canadian media is having a field day penning articles regarding whether or not the Toronto Maple Leafs will be able to pry the second overall pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning in order to draft Ontario Hockey League superstar John Tavares. The same would happen in baseball.
It would also give small-budget teams the opportunity to make educated decisions regarding what is best for their franchise. They could make a trade to benefit their team now or build the farm system, rather than being forced to draft a top talent that they have to make an immediate multi-millionaire.
I know this is something we will probably never see, but it is always fun to imagine.