The NFL’s structures are unparalleled. And the league has created an absolute mammoth spectacle in the NFL Draft. This is because the Draft, and the NFL in general, flows so naturally out of another extremely popular sport, college football. We know the players selected, they’ve had to perform on a big stage already, and they’re expected to contribute right off the bat. Now that is a great player acquisition system.
Then, there’s Major League Baseball. The MLB is becoming less attractive to the consumers of the future with each passing year because of the league’s competitive balance and on-field aesthetic issues. There’s a gruesome handful of teams that essentially mail it in by fielding a cheap, replacement-level roster before the start of every season, and what’s letting their fans sleep at night?
That’d be the MLB Draft. Your team might pick a high schooler, or they might pick a college player. In the former case, there’s a massive bust risk involved because you’re trying to project how a player’s hit tool or pitching command will develop when they’re not facing other high schoolers who will never play another inning in their lives. Pick a college player and your fans will think you didn’t take the player with the highest ceiling. Either way, even at the very top of the draft, the selected player isn’t expected to make the big club right away, and maybe not for as long as five years. And oh yeah, your owner better not go cheap because otherwise the guy you pick after a whole year of terrible baseball might not even sign a contract and can sever all ties with the team. That’s the MLB Draft.
It will almost certainly never happen, but I really can’t tell you a good reason why the MLB Draft doesn’t have the same eligibility rules as the NFL Draft: the player must be out of high school for three years and have used up their college eligibility. This would be massive for college baseball. If college baseball had all of the best 18-to-21 year olds in the country among its ranks, it’s quite obvious it would become a good deal more popular. Fans of down-and-out MLB teams would tune in to check out their potential saviors, college baseball managers would be put under the microscope, alums would have another potential revenue sport to engage with – recruiting might even become a big affair.
In the past, the vast minor league system made this hypothetical agreement untenable. But now the MLB has consolidated the minor leagues into four levels of 120 teams (four affiliates per team), and it seems the minors could be well-stocked with players from a college-only draft plus international free agent signings.
I think that the MLB would benefit in a big way, too. Tanking might become a little more popular because the top picks in the MLB Draft just became a little more of a sure thing, but that issue could be largely remedied by the competitive balance gold stroke – a salary floor. Every time I think about how the MLB could be improved, I come back to the salary floor.