A Potential Talent Acquisition Loophole (UPDATED)

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The Chicago Cubs are playing some very inspired baseball against a tough schedule early in the season, having gone 12-8 in April against legitimate competition and starting off May right with a hard-fought win against the surprisingly terrible Milwaukee Brewers.  The hopes of contention hinge somewhat on how the Cubs do in May against mostly good teams, including the black devil magic St. Louis Cardinals, that are also primed for a postseason run.

This is important not just for this season (a shot at that long-awaited World Series championship), but also for the future in terms of talent acquisition.  Regardless of their record this year, the Cubs still need to draft and sign amateur talent to replace the Kris Bryant and Addison Russell types as they trickle up to the majors.  Getting a better record does mean losing out on a chance to draft early and often in the Rule 4 Draft, or to get more international pool money, etc.  That’s the way it will be for the foreseeable future because as we see in the April sample, these Cubs are pretty good and they should finish above .500 with consistent play and some luck.

We already pretty much know that the Cubs intend to break the bank on the international amateur free agent signings this coming period (starting July 2, check out Bleacher Nation’s roundup), which could be a boon for the franchise as we see guys like Gleyber Torres starting to tear it up in the minors.  We also know that the Cubs front office can find talent just about anywhere in the draft, not just in the first round, so their draft positioning isn’t absolutely important this year, especially if the draft insiders and experts I follow on Twitter are suggesting that this year’s draft is devoid of any real ringers after maybe the top three are gone.  Not that “pace” is a real thing in baseball (since baseball doesn’t follow a linear path), but if the Cubs play at the current “pace” they will draft 24th overall after drafting at #9 this year.

One wrinkle that baseball doesn’t allow (but other professional sports do) is the straight-up trading of draft picks.  Sure, they allow the competitive balance picks to be traded, which you can find various instances of, including when the Los Angeles Dodgers pretty much just took some salary from the Baltimore Orioles’ payroll to nab a pick.  So smart GMs can figure out ways to use money to get that extra lift for their draft board come the summer.  For the most part, though, draft picks are locked to their teams upon signing and they can’t move…

…or can they?  As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes, MLB has decided to allow the trading of recent draftees the day after the World Series concludes:

Please be advised that the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association have agreed to amend the Major League Rules in advance of this year’s Rule 4 Draft with respect to players-to-be-named-later (“PTBNLs”) under Rule 12(e)(2), and the trading of draft picks under Rule 3(b)(6). …commencing with players eligible for the 2015 Rule 4 Draft, (a) players selected in the Draft may be traded beginning on the day following the conclusion of the World Series, and (b) drafted players cannot be PTBNLs unless they otherwise could be traded pursuant to Rule 3(b)(6), as amended, at the time of the trade.

This means that players will no longer be stuck in PTBNL limbo like Trea Turner did when it was let known that he was the PTBNL in a three-way trade, but couldn’t leave San Diego for Washington due to the previous rule.  At least they’re treating him right by both organizations.

I couldn’t write about this earlier because I’m on Daddy Duty this weekend plus I was also in teacher/coach mode most of Friday, but I immediately thought about the possibility of drafting with the intention of trading for alternative talent.  John at Cubs Den did too:

The significance is that makes it easier to trade them that following offseason.  What also makes it interesting is that it may prompt a team to draft a player specifically with the intention of trading him.  Let’s say the Cubs are trying to trade young, controllable assets for a veteran piece this summer. The other team can request that the Cubs pick a player they may think won’t be around for them when their turn comes up.  Given the great uncertainty of this year’s draft, that could well happen this year.  We shall see.

I had previously thought about the Cubs trading for a piece (maybe Johnny Cueto!) at the deadline, and given the Cincinnati Reds’ offseason fire sale, it’s not hard to imagine them jumping at the chance to add a #9 pick to their board.  We know that draft-and-trades can work in the Rule 5 Draft (remember Josh Hamilton?) and this could work similarly, except now it’s not just for cash considerations.  Now, the Cubs could potentially contact teams and say, “We’re going to draft X for you if you give us, oh, I dunno, Mike Trout.” (I kid.)

The caveat is that while there isn’t supposed to be agent-draftee contact before the Draft, players and teams do communicate to gauge signability so teams know not to waste their picks on a kid who is less likely to sign.  The negotiation process could get a bit more dicey if the kid knows that the club signing him is just waiting five months to ship him off somewhere else.  That next destination may or may not be desirable, though the money remains the same.  And if the kid thinks he’s staying with the original signing club but then gets flipped elsewhere?  I’m not sure how that would affect the dynamic between the club and potential future signees.  Then again, money is money and kids just want to play, so maybe that doesn’t matter, but it’s something to keep an eye on because well-compensated teenagers are people too.

I would take it a step further and say it might go the other way, though at this time I can’t think of any reason why the Cubs would try a fire sale, or use their deep prospect treasure trove to get anyone in return who is not MLB-ready or on the cusp.  However, a team with a front office like the Cubs do has shown it can be creative and resourceful, and now this rule has opened up the avenues of both amateur and MLB-ready talent acquisition.  And this makes for even juicier transaction fodder and rumor-mongering.  Ain’t it fun?

UPDATE 6/8 9:37 AM: Matthew Trueblood helps out with some of the legalese here.  Most of what I said above is right, except that because I had a reading comprehension fail, the recent draftee CANNOT be included, even as a PTBNL, until after the World Series ends:

Now that does still allow for the Rule 5 type deal I posited above, where the Cubs could potentially draft someone decent at #9 (or in any round, really), knowing full well that he can be used as an asset for an offseason trade for a cost-controlled asset (such as maybe Cole Hamels, ha).  No deadline deals, though.

Or they could, you know, keep and develop the guy as more of the elite prospects graduate to the majors or get traded for missing pieces.


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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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