The rest of the league could be moving toward the White Sox draconian way of thinking

The rest of the league could be moving toward the White Sox draconian way of thinking
"Sometimes the world devolves back to you," said Kenny while chewing at the raw flesh of a freshly-slaughtered suckling pig // Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

Year after year, the White Sox skimp out on the draft like no other.  Oh sure, they can't win the prize for the least amount of money spent on draft signings every year, but it's consistency that defines true cheapskates, not just random bursts of frugality.

The Sox just don't get hot under the collar for amateur talent.  They strive for cost-certainty and easy-to-project players, and have enough individual success stories of fleecing other teams by trading them eventual busts that they'll gleefully point to, even at a time like now; when they're crippled by a few bad big contracts, and have no cheap alternatives because their farm system is barren.

Oh yeah, that's the other thing.  No minor league talent means that the Sox have to pay market value for their impact players more often than not.  They're not horrible at it by any means--Paul Konerko, Jesse Crain, and Mark Buehrle all lived up to lucrative deals--but just a few busts on big investments on proven players (Rios, Dunn, Peavy), and they're crippled.  And in the case of Dunn, they lost a first-round pick for the privilege.

Meanwhile, teams like the Boston Red Sox--and maybe soon the Chicago Cubs--have been making hay for the past few years by going over the recommended payment slotting for elite youngsters, and the Pirates and Nationals have both laid the foundation for future success by throwing record amounts of money into the draft.  Having your top picks flame out stinks, but it's simply not the crippling blow that spending $100 million on a replacement player can be.

250 words already without getting to the point?  Yeesh.  Ok, so the owners and players union are currently hammering out the final details of a new collective bargaining agreement, and are almost a lock to avoid the type of fan-murdering labor stoppage that the other major sports leagues have grown so fond of.*

More specifically, the new agreement looks likely to put a cap on the overall amount teams can spend on each draft, as well as restructure or even eliminate the draft pick compensation system for teams who have their top free agents signed away.

In a vacuum, there's no real reason to support measures like these.  First, It puts amateur draftees in a unique position of not being able to demand their market value, further exposing the poor fate they can expect so long as their futures are being negotiated by veterans who don't share their concerns.

Second, this removes one of the great ways MLB maintains some level of parity.  "Breaking the bank" on the draft constitutes spending over $10 million on bonuses.  While that figure certainly has been accelerating rapidly, it's still to the point where it's affordable for all teams to invest heavily in the draft, it's just a matter of choice.  No more clearly is demonstrated than by the friggin' Pittsburgh Pirates leading the league in draft spending in 2011.

Free agent compensation isn't quite as worth getting in a tizzy about since it may just be a re-structuring of the system, and man, could this system use some re-structuring.

Receiving supplemental draft picks is an aid to teams that can't re-sign their free agents while also offering an alternative if the trade market isn't optimal, and top teams being forced to cede their 1st round picks for signing type-A free agents helps somewhat to reign in their prosperity.

It's hard to be excited by these changes...unless you're a White Sox fan.

Sure, it'd be best if the Sox shed their short-sighted approach toward player development, but the next best thing would be a league-wide rule being installed that caps the level to which other teams can exploit the White Sox' self-imposed disadvantage.  KW skimped out on the draft?  No problem!  So did everyone else...by rule.

The White Sox aren't signing any big-time free agents this off-season, but as a top-10 budget team, they're likely to sign more type A free agents than they let walk going forward, so reducing the amount of compensation for those players will probably be to their benefit should it take place.  In the short-term, if compensation is reduced, it might push the decisions on Quentin, Danks, and Floyd to be more strictly 'extend them or trade them'.  The opportunity to trade, by the way, may be raising it's head as soon as this week.

Rejoice!  The league might get worse, and offer less reward to skilled GMs who manage their farm systems brilliantly, and more to those who have cash to throw at veterans.  But your team (presumably) is the White Sox, and your GM is Kenny Williams, and they are both well-suited to this new, hellish era.

*One other thing the other leagues do that baseball doesn't; they announce everything to the crowd.  Don't understand what a touchdown is?  The PA will announce it for you when it happens.  Don't know what Derrick Rose looks like, the PA will call out his name whenever he does anything.  Baseball?  You get the lineups and the substitutions.  Everything else, you had better have enough pre-existing knowledge to figure things out for yourself.  Not even the July 4th balk-off got explained to fans.  Sometimes baseball's snootiness is awesome.

 

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  • This would be awful for baseball. Obviously this is Reinsdorf's baby. It benefits no team but his own. Even the small market teams were taking advantage of this inefficiency. All these teams that work hard in scouting and development to get an edge just got the rug pulled out from under them.

    The Cubs will still be okay. They can still spend gobs on their payroll and in the international market but man, they totally screwed the Rays, Pirates, Royals, Padres, etc...

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah, I hope the tone gave away my general disapproval for the move, even if the White Sox stand to benefit. The Rays making the playoffs on Game 162? The Pirates competing past the All-Star break? Everyone totally hated those stories, right?!

    I was walking into a Jewel the other day--I live on the North Side now despite my affiliations--and they had a "Welcome, Theo Epstein" sign up, and I thought how cool it was that fan awareness has picked up to where the common fan is aware of GM skill level. This would of course, beat a lot of that away with a hammer, which just takes a lot of fun out of following this league.

    It certainly wouldn't be any kind of surprise if Reinsdorf was pushing, as he's fully capable of looking at the Pirates spending $18 million on draft bonuses and crying "The world's gone mad! You can't give that kind of money to players who might never even see a major league field", then pay Jake Peavy $17 million for 2012. The Tigers were equally stingy with draft bonuses this year, but there's no reason to think Dombrowski is as dismissive toward the player development process as the Sox.

    Agreed on the Cubs, who will always be a capable power with their budget so long as they have competent management and owners who know when to let their guys work, but man, that takes some of the fun out of landing Theo that you can't try to make the Iowa Cubs the 28th best baseball team in the country.

    I guess we're still on wait-and-see mode on what's done to free agent compensation, but it certainly sounds like they could be moving toward taking away all the trade leverage from small-market teams with great players set to hit free agency.

    Bleeagh to all of it. I'll be keeping on eye on CD to get your take on this.

  • Nice article. By the way, the word is "parity" not "parody".

  • In reply to RichN:

    Ack! Hominym! The most unforgivable writing sin. Fixed. Thanks. And thanks for the kind words, too.

  • Awesome. Key point: "further exposing the poor fate [amateur draftees] can expect so long as their futures are being negotiated by veterans who don't share their concerns." Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg should have a spot at the negotiating table. So should Latin American ballplayers, who come even cheaper.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    Thanks, as always. Yeah, identifying the conflict of interest is one thing, actually creating some sort of representation for this population, and giving them stake in the negotiations, is quite another.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    True. To your other point about the White Sox involvement in all of this, an existential question: How can I simultaneoulsy love and loathe the White Sox so completely? Relatedly, why do we come to root for teams in the vicinity of where we were born or raised, relatively random occurances over which we have little control? Why not instead root for teams with which we share an organizational philosophy that we have developed over time on our own accord? It would be a lot less frustrating.

    If I didn't just blow your mind, maybe you could lend some insight, since you are a man of some acuity. Why can't I leave the White Sox? For me there is only one possible explanation: churros.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    YOUR EXPLANATION IS FAULT, THE ANSWER IS "ELOTES"

    In slightly more seriousness, I was actually thinking about that myself, given how loathsome such a power move would be. Grant Brisbee of SBNation submitted his free agent predicitions, which included Aramis Ramirez coming to the Sox and Mark Buehrle going to the Marlins. He's just spitballing and there's no real reason to think that's going to happen, but if so, I'd have to start comparing the White Sox front office behavior to that of a significant other who starts being abusive to soften the blow of an eventual break-up, because what else could explain such cruelty?

    However, I'd have to describe such an oddly unbreakable affiliation with a team--regional, as mine is, and I assume yours is as well for the most part--as the best kind.

    To explain why, I'd have to harken back to last year, when on top of WSO I was writing a Notre Dame blog with the steadily depreciating help of a few friends. My affiliation to Notre Dame is of course, that it's my alma mater. It's an institution I chose to attend for reasons that were somewhat tenuous at the time, were challenged severely during my time there, and my loyalties continue to tested day-by-day by each new event. Everyone is talking about Penn State now, but last season Notre Dame was witness to multiple events that inspired many to question their committment to their stated principles. Without getting any far into it, it exemplified that people, and certainly institutions as well, can let you down. They can infuriate you and disgust you, and drive you away to the point where you don't want to be affiliated with them anymore, let alone revel in their success like it's your own.

    Perhaps I can only explain how regional affiliations can be different is to explain how the White Sox are for me. They are intensely regional, not just to Chicago but to my neighborhood. They are served as tie my home, and because of the shared experiences of going to games as a child with my mother, father, and grandfather, they are a tie to my earliest memories of my family. My sister and I are now season-ticket holders, and the White Sox serve as our way of making time for each other. They are also the team by which I came to learn what baseball was, so it's impossible to extricate even appreciating the sport at all from wishing for the White Sox success. Hence this post, where my first reaction to hearing something that is blatantly bad for baseball was "Man, that's great for our goofy front office!"

    I've never really liked Jerry Reinsdorf, and Kenny Williams certainly isn't charming my pants off at the moment, but they're functionally irrelevant to my affection for the brand. It's something I associate with my own personhood, not individual players or even the franchise and its varied history. Of course, you get super-attached to players, and even have a level of sympathy for members of the team that you don't like, because you share a common interest and passion with them.

    I'm starting to lose my narrative thread here, I suppose the question I've wholly failed to address is why not follow a philosophy we agree with, or are just more likable in general. And sure, yeah, I do that all the time. I'm probably a very casual Mariners fan just because I enjoy Jeff Sullivan's writing so much and I can watch their games on MLB.TV after the White Sox have ended, and I was enjoy when Northwestern wins at football because they're a small local school, and I think the way they compensate for their lack of athletes is ingenious. It's hard to really get up or down for these teams in the same way because they just don't feel as intensely as my own, either because my reasons for affiliating myself don't seem as strong or I haven't been with them as long, and don't feel like I've properly weathered through as much to feel a sense of shared identity.

    I've been rooting for the White Sox since I was 3, what happens to them feels like it happens to me now. Which as we all know, is completely insane and a feeling I have try to suppress in my writing like an evil, undead, murderous demon that I've managed to lock in the basement.

  • Rich and riveting, thanks for reflecting. As (relatively) cerebral as baseball has become for me, I can't escape the fact that, like you, my attachment to the game, and the White Sox, always will be an emotional one. And that no amount of satisfaction gained from a (relatively) cogent understanding of baseball statistics will ever match the catharsis following Juan Uribe's charge and throw to get Orlando Palmeiro by a 1/2 step.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    Ultimately, it just wouldn't be much fun if it wasn't emotional. I probably also wouldn't be motivated enough to do this thing nearly every day.

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