Teams Should Be Allowed to Trade Draft Picks

One of my biggest pet peeves in all of baseball is that you cannot construct trades involving draft picks. Draft picks are commodities that teams own and which clearly have market value. Baseball’s paternalism in limiting the trading of this commodity goes well overboard, and damages the league overall.

I am going to make the case for trading draft picks not on any objective level, but rather from the subjective viewpoint of Major League Baseball. MLB should only make changes which benefit itself as an organization, so if there are legitimate reasons not to allow the trading of draft picks which outweigh any potential benefits, then I’ll back down. However, if we go over the typical laundry list of reasons given not to enact the change, I don’t see anything all too promising. In an article discussing the subject, the great Joe Posnanski details some of the reasons usually given. Here’s #1:

Owners are worried that if teams are allowed to trade draft choices that all the best young players will go to rich teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.

There are so many problems with this I don’t know where to begin. Joe makes the point that we don’t empirically see an overhaul of the best prospects going to the best teams via international free agency despite the lack of restrictions. However, I think the better point is this: why are we worried about teams being able to sell their own commodities for what they believe to be above the actual value of said commodity? If the Pirates feel that the first draft pick next year is worth $30 million to them, but the Yankees come in and offer two prospects they believe have an expected value of well over that, then why should MLB tie the Pirates’ hands and say, “No, we know better than you?” Besides the fact that most teams aren’t going to be selling their first overall draft picks (it’ll probably be 2nd and 3rd rounders), it’ll probably be the smaller market teams that buy the most of them! The big market teams will be looking to buy at the trade deadline and happily throw away some 3rd round pick for a decent bullpen arm, or a 1st round pick for the corner bat they need. Also, it’s funny MLB doesn’t care about restrictions on big money clubs when it comes to every other facet of baseball, but now we do here; I’m sorry, isn’t this the point of not having a salary cap? Joe’s Reason #2:

Owners are worried that small-market teams will go all Ted Stepien on us and start trading their draft choices like crazy so that they don’t have to spend money on signing bonuses.

Same answer to #1. Here’s #3:

Owners have this nostalgic belief that the best young players should go to the worst teams.

They still can, but why would you force a team to have one if they don’t want it? Really terrible logic there. However, Joe has a reason he thinks makes sense:

They’re scared to death that this will give Scott Boras and the other agents even MORE power over the draft…So, Danny suggests — and I can see this — that the big fear is that if teams are allowed to trade draft picks, suddenly Boras and his ilk become even more powerful. Suddenly they have yet another hammer. They can demand trades. They can bully small-market teams with even bigger demands. Yes, I can see why the owners are afraid … these people are not exactly known for their self control. They’re like the people who refuse to take the mini-bar key when they go to hotels because they know, just know, that at 2 a.m. they will not be able to stop themselves.

Joe seems to eat this up; I’m really not buying it. First off, this will happen for just about ten draft picks in the entire draft. Those are the ones that you can predict with any sort of decent accuracy (maybe even the top five only), and Joe goes on only to give examples regarding Strasburg, Boras, and the first overall pick. So I won’t throw away the idea just because there’s this one potential problem regarding a small number of picks.

More importantly, however, is the fact that this only gives more options to teams, and that’s not a bad thing. What do I mean by this? Scott Boras calls up Mike Rizzo the day before the MLB draft and says, “I hear you’re thinking of taking our Strasburg kid. I wouldn’t do it. He doesn’t want to sign with you. Trade the pick.” First off, this can already happen in the status quo, where instead of Boras saying “trade the pick,” he just says, “pick someone else.” Secondly, however, the teams can just draft the player anyway, and then you are completely back to the status quo with no real changes! The only way that a team would “be duped” by Boras is if they believe him and trade the pick, but they can still “be duped” in the status quo and take someone else. The minute they draft Boras’ guy, then negotiations are back to whatever they would be.

Moreover, this ignores the possibility that some guys might actually hold out or demand so much that a team really doesn’t want them. Rick Porcello dropped all the way to the end of the first round because of his price tag. Now, don’t you think someone with the 15th pick should be able to call the Tigers and say, “Listen, you’re not scared to give this kid what he wants. Give us your 1st and 2nd round picks and you can nab him right here before here falls any farther.” This is something that could actually happen, and it’d be better for baseball and everyone making roster managerial decisions throughout the game.

The reasons for not making the change are far outweighed by the inherent benefits of making it. It’s time baseball followed along the same lines of almost every other professional sports league and allowed teams to trade draft picks.

Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat

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Nick Scott

I was wondering if there wasn’t some kind of legal reason to keep teams from trading picks. Maybe that would force minor league players to be part of the CBA or something, which neither the mlbpa nor the owners want.