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DENVER — Imagine the Mets see Kumar Rocker sliding in Sunday’s draft and begin to get a stronger impression that the Vanderbilt righty is going to fall to them at No. 10.
So acting GM Zack Scott calls his Cubs counterpart Jed Hoyer and asks if Rocker makes it to the Mets would Chicago trade Kris Bryant for that pick? Or how about he reaches out to Twins GM Thad Levine and says what prospect(s) plus the rights to Rocker would be enough for Jose Berrios?
If this were possible, would you have watched the first round of the MLB draft?
Because there are two factors that work against deriving huge interest in the draft and turning it into the TV spectacle for which MLB hungers:
1. The NBA gets the residual benefits of the NCAA Tournament raising the profile of many draft eligible players. The NFL derives the advantages of Saturday after Saturday of college football turning potential draft picks into more familiar entities and skills sets. College baseball and, certainly, high school baseball have nothing nationally near the equivalent to increase recognition.
2. This is the more important one: As soon as a player is drafted into the NBA or NFL, he is on the big team and could impact the coming season. Zach Wilson is probably going to be the Jets quarterback. If the Pistons draft Cade Cunningham, he is going to be at least a rotation player immediately.
The Pirates took Louisville’s Henry Davis first and — like just about everyone taken in the first round — he is now one to four years away from making the majors. He is about to be out of sight, which leads to largely out of mind.
No matter what it does, MLB cannot change these two factors. So the only element that can be added to increase the popularity and impact of the event is to allow the trading of draft picks so that established players — players the fans know already and care about — are involved in the draft.
The Major League Baseball Players Association proposed allowing the trade of draft picks in the past two collective bargaining negotiations. MLB has been resistant, concerned that it could be another area in which agents potentially manipulate clients to favorable (read namely big markets) and/or big-market teams could essentially bully and buy their way up the draft ladder.
Well, agents and teams already are manipulating the draft. The 10 best prospects did not go in the first 10 picks Sunday. Plus, clubs have draft pool dollars and are figuring out the best way to spend it and that could be to take a lesser player high to have more to spend elsewhere, for example.
Also, to look at small-market clubs as weak sisters that need MLB’s umbrella protection in this forum is to not pay attention to how franchises are operated now. The best organizations are attempting to leverage and maximize every avenue of player procurement. If you give a well-run team — no matter how small — like the Rays or A’s more ways to gain talent, they will do well with it. If you don’t think the Rays would be playing every angle as a contender again this year — we will trade you two future first-rounders for a stud starter or impact bat — then you are missing how they have built a persistent contender on a shoestring budget.
MLB already has dipped a toe into these waters in recent years by allowing the trading of international pool money and Competitive Round picks, which come after the first and second rounds. It’s time to take the next, more interesting step.
Essentially, you can fashion a second earlier trade deadline before the actual trade deadline and create another must-follow part of the MLB calendar. That is why I would move it a week earlier than the All-Star Game so as not to cannibalize that event, yet be late enough that 1) it probably still comes after the College World Series and 2) late enough in the schedule that contenders and sellers have been defined enough for action.
As an example, the Red Sox entered this year with a perception that they were still building toward a better tomorrow, so the fourth pick garnered with a dreadful 2020 was initially a tool toward that end. But as of draft day, they led the AL East. They would have options to, at minimum, ask the Pirates, would you like to have not just the first pick, but the fourth pick, too, in your rebuild in exchange for Bryan Reynolds or ask the Rockies — in their rebuild — whether to add to the eighth selection would they take the fourth pick plus prospects for German Marquez?
The Yankees haven’t had a pick in the top 12 since taking Derek Jeter sixth in 1992. Would this be the year — with their big club struggling — to inquire of teams in the top 10 about a package of the 20th pick and Gleyber Torres for access to one of the better amateurs available? Would Colorado, about to trade Trevor Story or lose him in free agency, do that for the eighth pick?
This is the kind of intrigue that would be added to the draft and that intrigue would lead to a product that would attract far more interest to the draft process.
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