The New Draft Rules Are Backfiring

Yesterday a lot of news came out regarding Brady Aiken, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. To give a short recap, the Astros agreed to a deal with Aiken, but now they’re saying that he has an injury. Aiken is denying the injury. The Astros have delayed a deal with their fifth rounder, since his above-slot signing could only be possible if they actually sign Aiken (the agreed upon deal was under slot, and some of the rest of the bonus pool money would have gone to fifth rounder Jacob Nix). What complicates it even more is that the Astros are trying to sign Aiken to a lower bonus, which would allow them to also sign 21st rounder Mac Marshall, but raises the question as to why they’d want to sign Aiken if they’re concerned about his health.

I was going to write something on this subject today, then I read this article by Mike Petriello over at FanGraphs, making pretty much every point I would have made. Overall, this is just a sign that the new draft rules are broken. There wouldn’t be a problem here if the Astros were allowed to sign whoever they wanted, with no penalty involved. We wouldn’t have a system where a totally healthy fifth rounder can’t sign, all because there are health questions surrounding the first rounder. There wouldn’t be a situation where a 21st round pick is signable, but unable to sign due to the harsh penalties involved.

My hope is that this whole situation forces a change to the new draft rules. I love the fact that players are now signing faster, since MLB is no longer delaying over-slot deals. But the idea that teams can’t spend whatever they want in the draft, while teams can spend ridiculous amounts on free agency, Japanese players, and Cuban players over 23, is outrageous. The Pirates out-spent everyone in the draft from 2008-2011. Their total spending was around $50 M, or about what the Phillies gave to Jonathan Papelbon a few years ago to be their closer for four years. The Pirates got Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, Justin Wilson, Brandon Cumpton, Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, and a lot of other players who have either led to the Pirates being contenders, or have led to them having a top farm system. Then there’s the fact that the Pirates signed Josh Bell for $5 M, and spent $17 M in the draft in 2011, thus breaking the old system. Yet the Yankees are allowed to sign Masahiro Tanaka to a $155 M deal, paying him $22 M per year, despite never throwing an inning in the US.

The common argument against the old system is the fear that somehow the Yankees could take advantage of that route as well. That’s not really a valid fear. For one, they could have done that all along, and Boston was one of the teams that was spending in the draft. Second, even if the Yankees spent money, that wouldn’t impact the negotiations for the Pirates. Teams have exclusive negotiation rights with their picks, and the draft is set up so that teams can’t load up on all of the top talent. The Pirates might not have gotten Josh Bell in this scenario, but they’re still getting middle round picks like Nick Kingham, Tyler Glasnow, and Clay Holmes.

Personally I’d rather have the old system, even if it comes with the fear that the Yankees could also participate in loading up on draft talent. That would be better than the current system, where the Yankees continue to spend small in the draft, while the Pirates lose their ability to load up on a lot of high upside young talent.

Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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