By Sean Millerick
As the calendar turns to June, many fans are getting pumped up for what they consider to be the most exciting part of the baseball year: trade season.
Rumors will run rampant right up to the Trade Deadline, which for reasons known only to Rob Manfred will be on August 2nd this year as opposed to the traditional July 31st date.
Fan bases will brace for either the departure of longtime stars or the arrival of reinforcements for a deep playoff run. Prospects will be studied, salaries shuffled, and Twitter incessantly stared at from now until deep into summer. All leading up to a glorious week where any true baseball fan will be unable to put their phone down until the deadline expires.
And completely independent from all of this, the MLB Draft will also happen. It really is quite the disconnect. What’s more, it’s a disconnect that is completely unnecessary and has a very simple solution:
MLB needs to allow teams to trade draft picks. Particularly first-rounders.
Without question, the biggest problem with the MLB Draft isn’t the lack of trading picks but the slow-burning return on investment from those draft picks.
Maybe not every player picked in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft is going to the Pro Bowl this season, but barring injury, almost every one of them is taking meaningful NFL snaps this season.
NBA first-rounders? Nearly all will be knocking down some shots in 2022.
Baseball though? You won’t see any of the players drafted this summer in the majors until 2024 at the earliest, and most of them won’t ever be seen in the majors at all.
Throw in the fact that most MLB fans don’t follow these players in high school and college to nearly the same extent basketball and football draftees are, and it’s very likely the MLB Draft will always be finishing third behind the NBA and NFL.
However, it doesn’t have to be nearly this distant. And trading draft picks is the simplest and most direct way of closing that popularity gap.
It’s obvious that MLB wants the draft to be more interesting. The length has been trimmed. It has been moved back from its traditional date in June so that it could be part of All-Star week in July. But if you’re already moving it that much closer to the Trade Deadline, why not make it a much more consequential part of all that Hot Stove League action fans love?
Who wouldn’t have wanted to see a draft day trade for Jack Leiter last season? For Adley Rutschman? Why not allow the Marlins or the Phillies to trade their first couple picks in 2022 to the Red Sox for Xander Bogaerts? Is all of that somehow bad for baseball?
Clearly, the answer is no. Which begs the question, why was this prohibition on trading picks ever put into place to begin with?
Once upon a time, the answer was a really good one: MLB thought teams were too stupid to be trusted. The league believed that allowing the trading of top picks would disrupt competitive balance. And once upon a time, that almost assuredly would have happened.
Now, though? Unlikely. Because if you wanted to sum up the entirety of MLB’s problems in a single sentence, it would be that teams are now too smart for their own good. The league is now having to limit mound visits, limit pitching changes, crack down on sticky substances, navigate elaborate sign-stealing scandals, and outright ban innovations like the shift.
The three true outcomes game of 2022 is the product of years of advancement and study. As is the growing unrest amongst the middle class of baseball’s player pool.
Teams are willing to pay up for the truly elite, but otherwise are eschewing paying sizable contracts to veterans in favor of maximizing the value of much lower paid prospects.
In short, there’s a mountain of evidence to suggest that teams know the value of prospects — and the draft picks needed to acquire them.
Which isn’t to say that there wouldn’t be that handful of trades involving those coveted first-round draft picks every July. Just the same as there is a handful of trades every April for the NFL draft, and every June for the NBA.
Not enough to wreck the league, but enough to add spice and excitement for fans…and give teams another tool to improve their rosters.
It’s a needed and necessary change. One that if MLB is truly serious about boosting interest in their annual draft it needs to make as soon as possible.
Sean Millerick is a diehard Miami Marlins fan but still finds cause for hope every Spring Training. He currently writes for @CallToThePen. You can find him on Twitter @miasportsminute.