In the commentary following grover's recent "Phase 2" diary, a discussion arose as to the MLB draft bonus "slotting" system and how it affected the A's (for example, is signing draft choices such as Gary Brown simply a matter of reallocating money within the budget, or are there other constraints on the A's course of action?). Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus recently wrote a terrific piece explaining how the slotting system works. I'm going to quote it below and offer a couple comments, so you can read those before hitting the link if you choose, but for anyone who has any interest in the draft and in the A's farm system, the article itself is an absolute must-read. And (thank you, BP!) it's one of the few BP offerings that is available to be viewed in full by non-subscribers. Goldstein's article was mentioned in the comments to grovers current recommended diary on August prospects, but it wasn't linked and I think the whole topic is poorly understood and deserves a stand-alone diary.
The system is built around two key structural realities: (1) MLB has no ultimate control of the outcome, in that MLB can't require teams to follow the slotting guidelines; and (2) MLB does have control of the process, in that it can require teams to report back to MLB at several stages of the draftee-signing process. The result is that, each and every time a team indicates a desire to sign a draftee to a bonus over the recommended slot value, MLB will go over the head of the scouting director and GM and pressure the owner directly to try to quash the deal. Given the BFF, old-school-chum relationship between Selig and Wolff, this isn't a good thing for A's fans.
Here's one interesteng quote from the article about which teams are going over slot:
There seems to be two types of organizations that are consistently going over slot: Smart ones, and rich ones, not that the two are mutually exclusive. Four teams that immediately come to mind are the Tigers, the Angels, the Red Sox and the Yankees. Go look at the standings, and then go look and the amount of elite-level young talent in each system. It’s not a coincidence.
I note that Goldstein mentions the exact same four teams I singled out in my comment in grover's diary. I also note two other things about those four teams: they're all in the AL, and they may well be the AL's four playoff teams this year. They are the A's direct competition for scarce playoff spots (including the wild card), they are already all richer than the A's (three of them enormously richer), and the A's can ill afford to spot them any additional competitive advantages.
One final point: The A's aren't being "cheap" here. Mind you, I think the failure or inability or unwillingness to pay a bit extra to sign draft picks is a HUGE organizational shortcoming and a major obstacle to future success, but "cheapness" isn't the correct characterization of this fault. Beane, Forst, Zaidi et al are certainly smart, and there is no way on this earth that they are unaware of the studies (or they may have made their own studies) showing draft choices to be one of the best investments around. And specifically with regard to over-slot signings, Goldstein refers to a study by Jim Callis that "showed an overwhelming success rate for players who received well-above-slot bonuses." Using the Moneyball theme, draftees are just about the best undervalued assets available anywhere (largely because the draft itself and the slotting system artificially depress the cost of draftees relative to what their true market price would be), and you can bet that Beane knows it. Wolff himself is obviously familiar with the concept of investing money to make more money, and over-slot signings are money-makers, by all accounts. If the A's don't engage in the practice, it won't be because of cheapness but because of relationships and decisions at the ownership level. That still sucks for A's fans, and it certainly counts as an important organizational defect that stands in the way of future success, but "cheapness" is not the name of that defect.
Here's hoping the A's decide to address this problem - effectively, and soon.