Wooden's World of Baseball

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Independent Farce

A lot has already been written about the non-signing of Aaron Crow, most of it the in the vein of blame-storming either the player, his agents, or Jim Bowden. Very little has been made regarding the "contract" he has signed with the Ft. Worth Cats. Until now.

My personal opinion regarding the "First Year Draft" is that it is severely flawed and tremendously skewed towards the status quo. Note that it is no longer named the "Amateur Draft." Love him or hate him, we can thank Scott Boras for that, as it's been his doing that MLB has changed the rules so that players that play professionally (read: independent leagues) can't skirt the draft.

While I totally "get" that this is to prevent the spirit of the draft -- the worst teams having a chance to rebuild with the best available talent -- I have a problem with the inherent unfairness of a player being (mostly) unable to reap the reward of taking such a huge risk.

Now, I understand it did pay off for Luke Hochevar, who went from the 40th player picked in the 2005 draft to the #1 player picked in the 2006 draft. and went from a $2.98M signing bonus to a $3.5M signing bonus and a four-year major-league contract. At least in terms of the money.

But a common thread here is that the players who take such a risk are out in the cold if they get hurt or struggle. So far neither has happened, but it's only a matter of time before either scenario occurs. And then what? I certainly hope he's taken out some sort of insurance against an injury, thought I was unable to find such information through a quick search via Google.

Clearly, Hochevar's successful gambit paid off precisely because he pitched in the independent American Association in the spring of 2006, and pitched well: 1-1 with a 2.38ERA and 34K's in 22⅔ IP with opponents batting just .244 against him.

But what if he had gotten lit up, a la Ross Detwiler earlier this year? Could have easily happened, and don't fool yourself into thinking otherwise. Hochevar also walked 11 batters and very much like High-A ball, defense is less-than-stellar in the indys, though there have been some notable exceptions (e.g. Jason Startari who made just 6 errors in 73 games at 3B in 2003 for the North Shore Spirit).

Which gets us back to Aaron Crow. Sure, now he's a Ft. Worth Cat, pitching out of the bullpen. Last night he was inserted into the game in the 8th inning, protecting a 7-0 lead. He allowed a hit and neither walked nor struck out a batter. The playoffs start on Monday and the Cats are gunning for their fourth straight league championship. Care to wonder if he'll pitch in a pressure situation next week? I'm not holding my breath.

The real test will be if he pitches next spring. Perhaps he can match Hochevar and light it up. Maybe he'll even do the right thing and stick with the Cats to showcase his talents. But I can't say I'm necessarily rooting for him to do either. In fact, it may even be a good thing for him to get roughed up — at least once, preferably after a couple of starts or appearances so the knee-jerk reaction of "well, he didn't keep himself in shape" won't hold water.

But again, I'm not holding my breath. The prejudice against the independents runs very deep, and I suspect it will take more than a couple of decades for folks to recognize just where they fit in the big picture, which is a place for true ballplayers to keep playing ball and for the overlooked and undrafted to get their chance.