A Novel Draft Strategy

There has been a lot of talk recently about how several teams plan to exceed the spending limits on international signings in 2014, notwithstanding the penalties they will face in 2015 and 2016.

It got me thinking about the regular mlb amateur draft on June 5-7, and wondering if a similar strategy could make sense.

The maximum penalty payable by a drafting team kicks in if the team pays an aggregate bonus amount more than 15% of their limit. The penalty in that case is 100% of the amount overspent plus the loss of the team’s first round picks in the following two years.

The tax on overspend is likely not a major deterrent, when you consider that the total amateur draft budget for most teams is less than one year’s salary for a Ricky Nolasco. But the loss of two first-rounders would hurt. A lot.

That said, in every draft there are players that drop below their projected draft spot due to signability issues. If a team had no spending limitation, and could sign as many as those players as it could draft, the benefit might exceed those two lost first round picks. And that benefit would be accelerated, because the extra players you draft in 2014 would have two more years of development by the time the 2016 draft rolls around.

I was curious about how much benefit might be available, so I created the following "thought experiment"

  • · I used the actual draft results from the 2013 mlb draft, and the pre-draft rankings by Baseball America and Keith Law
  • · I assumed that the Jays would still draft Bickford in the first round (?) but that they would draft highly ranked "hard signs" in rounds 2-10.
  • · I assumed that the Jays would only draft players that were in the top 60 of the pre-draft rankings of either BA or Law. I used this (admittedly arbitrary) cutoff as a definition of a "high ranked pick"
  • · I further assumed (to simplify) that the Jays had a good idea of when these players would otherwise be drafted, and that they would draft themselves accordingly

On that basis, here is my hypothetical Jays 2013 draft. Note that the "actual pos" column shows the actual position in which the player was drafted in 2013.


This outcome is both optimistic and pessimistic. It is optimistic in that it assumes that the Jays could draft all of these players, and that they would all sign for the right money. It is pessimistic in that it only looks at the first 10 rounds, and only at players ranked in the top 60 of BA/Law. If the Jays were really going to do this, they would presumably continue beyond the 10th round.

So in my hypothetical example, what do the Jays get for their 2 lost first round picks? Well, they get three "first round talents" (23rd, 28th, 31st), and six second-rounders (if I assume the second round to include the competitive balance picks).

Keep in mind that, in doing this analysis, I was only using information available at the 2013 draft date. Since then, perceptions of some of these players have changed (Jon Denney’s run-in with the Fort Meyers police, for example). Also keep in mind that, while several of these players ultimately signed for ~slot, the reason most of them dropped so far was due to concerns about their expectations.

Please appreciate that I am using these players to illustrate a concept rather than commenting on them specifically. You might well say that you think so-and-so was overrated in 2013, and that he is not as good as his BA/Law rating would indicate. That may be true, but my point is that a team could access a lot of talent under this strategy if money were not an impediment.

Will a team ever use this draft strategy? Probably not. But who knows? If a team ever wanted to restock their farm system overnight, a tactic like this might well make a lot of sense.

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