Monday morning, when I asked high-profile agent Scott Boras about the role he played in the Nationals’ decision to “tank” years ago, he proposed the simple anti-tanking measure that in order to pick among the first five picks in the draft, a team must win at least 68 games the previous season. He then shared a more radical concept, somewhat related, that would overhaul baseball’s draft system. He dubbed it, the “Elite Draft.” He had yet to share it with anyone inside the game, but it seemed clear, he had spent a surprising amount of time thinking about it.
Like a lot of Boras’s ideas, the Elite Draft is self-serving, bonkers in a good way and thoroughly thought-provoking. It’s not realistic, ultimately, but it’s fun and fascinating to consider.
Here’s how it would work:
1) Every year by a specified date before the draft, every team would submit a list of draft-eligible players it would be willing to pay a higher bonus than the MLB-assigned slot bonus of the No. 1 overall pick.
2) Draft-eligible prospects listed on at least 15 of 30 ballots become part of the Elite Draft.
3) However many players are designated Elite, that’s how many teams are in the Elite Draft. If there are five Elite players in a given year, five teams are in that Elite Draft.
4) In order to qualify for the Elite Draft, teams must win at least 68 games. If there are five Elite players, then the teams with the five-worst records in baseball, excluding those won 67 games or fewer, are included in the Elite Draft.
5) The Elite Draft isn’t really a draft. The eligible teams would bid on the eligible players, and the highest bid wins.
6) Teams in the Elite Draft can trade their picks. Say there is a prospect on the level of Bryce Harper and a team like Oakland decides it does not want to risk so many resources on one player, but it knows a team like the Yankees would. It can bid on the Harperian prospect, sign him for a vast bonus – $30 million? –and ship him to another team for a haul of prospects or young big leaguers.
That’s pretty much it. Crazy, right? Boras, leaving unspoken the increased money that would flow to players in the draft, saw multiple benefits.
• It would make baseball’s draft an event. “Can you imagine what the writers would say?” Boras said. “It would create so much talk. Who [are] the elite players? The main thing is, it brings an interest level to the draft where there’s none. It allows an attention brought to our draft that does not exist. If you’re an elite player, you’re not just a high school player any more. You’re one of the guys that’s a special group.”
• The notion of the best young foreign players receiving higher bonuses than the best young American players receive through the draft has been a Boras hobby horse for years. He believes the draft’s artificial suppression of bonuses is bad for baseball and could cost the sport players, who might choose basketball or football instead because those sports offer higher pay among entry-level players. Under this system, baseball’s collective scouting apparatus would choose the best American players and remove any cap for their bonuses.
“I’m trying to bring an answer to the huge issue with international players,” Boras said. “They’re getting these grand bonuses, and the Americans aren’t. Who’s better to address that than the teams?”
• It would prevent tanking – teams who want the huge benefit of inclusion in the Elite Draft couldn’t fall below 68 wins.
• It would create more flexibility in roster building for teams at the bottom of the league. It would introduce a new kind of asset, and that asset could be wielded in many ways. “When you’re talking about all these things that create interest, you give teams an immense amount of options to better their major league franchise,” Boras said.
From a pure entertainment standpoint, all of that sounds pretty sweet. In terms of actual implementation, well, I don’t know. For starters, it seems hugely unlikely the MLB Players Association would propose anything remotely like it in collective bargaining talks and impossible that the owners would go for it. And in practice, teams could sabotage the system. They could artificially monkey with their list of Elite prospects and cheap teams like the Marlins could ruin the process in a variety of ways.
But like so many of the ideas Boras proposes, that really is a hell of a thing to think about.