Originally written on The Nats Blog  |  Last updated 6/4/12

The 2012 MLB Amateur Draft begins today, and it’s a day that many baseball fans look forward to more than the actual season. It’s a chance to see your team’s future in a snapshot, and it gives even the worst teams hope for the future. This year, though, the draft is going to look very different.

The Washington Nationals spent the last five years picking in the top ten in the draft, and this year they aren’t even in the top half in the first round at 16th overall. In 2009 and 2010, the Nats were able to pick first overall because of atrocious records the season before, and they were able to land generational talent in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Both guys are now on the Nationals 25-man roster, and both are making a huge impact.

If the Nationals had a chance to pick either of those players this year, or even Anthony Rendon in 2011, it might have been a struggle based on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The new agreement essentially tells teams what they can spend on the draft, or teams can be stuck with extremely high financial penalties: a 75% tax for exceeding number by more than 5%. If you exceed the cap by 15%, you could lose two future first-round picks and be taxed 100%. If teams do that, and the player they drafted the first round of the penalty year doesn’t pan out, it could put a team in the hole for a decade.

This year, there is no “Strasburg” or “Harper.” There’s not even a “Rendon.” Even still, the Nats will be able to spend $4.4 million on their first ten picks. In contrast, they spent $16.5 million on their first five picks in 2011, a draft where they landed significant talent to help their future like Rendon, Matt Purke, and Alex Meyer. If the Nats were restricted to the slot in the past three years, it’s possible the Nationals aren’t competing for the division right now, and it’s likely they couldn’t compete for as long as many expect them to. Under the new agreement, players can’t be signed to major league deals right out of the draft, which compounds the issue.

Now, there’s a point to this: parity. The goal is to give teams like the 2008, 2009, and 2010 Nationals a chance to compete against big money franchises like the Phillies and Yankees. However, it is hindering teams willing to spend money on prospects in the draft rather than helping the teams that only want to pay slot for drafted players. The Lerner family should be lauded for their willingness to spend a lot of money to make the Nats better for their fans; they shouldn’t be penalized for being good owners.

I’m not saying something shouldn’t be done to help bad teams. Without strong drafts, a smart GM in Mike Rizzo, and willing owners, the Nationals wouldn’t be where they are today. Some teams don’t have all of those benefits and need additional help. However, teams that are willing to spend money to build a team from the bottom up rather than going into the free agent market shouldn’t have to risk their future just for one pick, and that’s what the new CBA does.

So as I watch this year’s draft, I’ll be interested in who the Nats pick and how he can help the team in the coming years. But I’ll be equally interested to see who decides to go to college instead of becoming a professional ballplayer because of these new rules.

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