One question I wanted to see posed to Fred and Jeff Wilpon during the press conference following Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel's dismissal is whether the team's new general manager will be allowed to exceed MLB's slotting guidelines for the amateur draft. Perhaps I missed Joel Sherman, Adam Rubin, or another Mets beat writer ask this question, but I don't think so. At this juncture it appears that the Mets next GM will be Sandy Alderson (highly likely), Josh Byrnes (possible), or Jon Daniels (darkhorse). Whichever of these three men is chosen, his first order of business MUST BE to convince the Wilpons that the new front office has to have the authority to exceed MLB's slotting guidelines for the amateur draft.* I view this as an absolute necessity if the Mets are to succeed in the short- and long-term.
* - of course, I don't know for a fact that Minaya wasn't allowed to exceed slotting guidelines. The Wilpons claimed a number of things in their press conference including that they don't recall Minaya ever suggesting that they eat a particular players' contract (presumably they were referencing Perez or Castillo); that they know that they are not knowledgeable enough to "choose baseball players"; and that they don't recall ever vetoing a GM's proposal of a major acquisition. That being said, it doesn't seem plausible that Minaya, a former scout, would unilaterally decide to adhere to the slotting guidelines without a directive from the Wilpons. Why on earth would he decide NOT to choose the best available player at a certain position (provided, of course, that the particular player's demands were within reason given the team's budget for the draft? By the way, much more on this point below). Accordingly, one can only logically assume that these directives came from above Minaya, i.e. - the Wilpons.
As currently constituted, MLB offers "guidelines" for what the bonus ought to be for amateur players picked in each spot of each round of the draft. Thus, for a player chosen by a team as the 23rd pick in the 1st round of the draft, MLB offers a strong recommendation on what the player's compensation (i.e. - salary and bonus) should not exceed. That being said, MLB teams can, and frequently do, ignore these guidelines and sign players in excess of the recommended amounts. The commissioner's office cannot punish teams for exceeding its guidelines, but does sometimes voice its dissatisfaction (publicly by means of a press release or privately to the team) with an agreement that a team has negotiated with an amateur player.
To date, the Mets have fairly steadfastly adhered** to the guidelines proferred by the commissioner's office, to their great detriment. Almost all of the other big market teams such as the Yankees, the Tigers, and the Red Sox, frequently pay far more than the recommended amount for draftees, and the result thereof has been predictable: these teams have far more talent in their minor league system than teams such as the Mets, who almost always abide by the commissioner's recommendations.
** - One of a few notable exceptions was the Mets' signing of 2010 24th-round pick Erik Goeddel to a contract with a reported $500,000 signing bonus. It would be interesting to know how/why the Mets failed to adhere to the slotting guidelines on this and a few other rare occasions. Was Minaya allowed to exceed slot once each year by the Wilpons? Was Minaya somehow able to convince the Wilpons that this particular player was worth ruffling the commissioner's feathers?
Of course, spending money isn't the same as spending money wisely. Permission of ownership to exceed the slotting guidelines isn't a guarantee of a healthy farm system that will produce successful MLB players. However, the difference between adherence and non-adherence to the guidelines is likely a major factor in the success of a team's farm system. Think about it this way: in many instances, different teams have identical information on a certain player, for example, Player X. Yet teams like the Mets will not draft Player X if his perceived salary and bonus demands would outstrip the slotting guidelines. While teams such as the Yankees who do not adhere to these guidelines most certainly have general parameters (if not a firm budget) as to the amount they want to spend on the ENTIRE draft, the amount that they will spend on a particular player is variable and subject to whether the team thinks a particular player is worth what he demands. This is a HUGE PROBLEM for teams like the Mets as essentially the Yankees and other non-adherents are drafting the best available players so long as they do not receive advance word from Player X's agent (or the rumor mill) that he wil demand a salary and bonus structure that (1) exceeds Player X's value, as determined by the team's scouting department, or (2) would constitute an excessive percentage of the team's total draft budget, as determined by the team's GM and finance gurus. The mechanics of (1) are obvious; in scenario (2), if a team's total draft budget is $5 million, and Player X wants $1 million, the team could conceivably deem him worthy of $1 million, but does not want to choose Player X and award him $1 million because it does not believe him to warrant 20% of the team's draft expenditures given the other talent available in that particular year. No particular qualms with this - every team has a budget, even the Yankees, and resources must be allocated in a careful, prudent fashion that considers the resource as well as the opportunity cost foregone.
The problem arises when the Mets (and other teams adhering to the slotting guidelines) are essentially adding a third factor, and ELIMINATING CERTAIN PLAYERS OUT OF HAND (either prior to the draft, or more likely, when they are "on the clock" and ready to choose a player), simply because the players' demands exceed the commissioner's slotting guidelines. Thus, even if Player X's salary and bonus demands are reasonable when compared with (1) his talent level and potential impact in the major leagues and (2) his talent level and the amount of their total draft budget that his salary and bonus would encompass, the Mets will not consider Player X if he is likely to request a salary and bonus in excess of the commissioner's guidelines. In essence, the Mets are handicapping themselves against the field (and handicapping themselves rather significantly, I believe).
I don't pretend to know WHY the Wilpons adhere to the commissioner's slotting guidelines. While some might argue they are trying to save money after the Madoff scandal, I don't think that argument makes sense because the Wilpons adhered to these recommendations since their inception, prior to the Madoff scandal. I think the Wilpons' adherence derives less from some type of financial motivation and more out of a personal loyalty to commissioner Bud Selig, a long-time friend of the family.
Regardless of the reason, it's simply poor business practice. It was bad enough when the only outliers were a few big market teams who chose to blatantly disregard the commissioner's edict, but in recent years several small market teams such as the Pirates*** and the Royals have now started to adopted this practice as these clubs see additional spending on draft choices as a way (and perhaps the only way) to compete with big market clubs for talent as the monetary difference between adherence and non-adherence is slight when compared with the differential financial muscle that big market clubs can exert in the free agent pool when compared with their competitors from small markets.
*** - For those who think a choice of Alderson as GM will foreclose the possibility of the Mets ignoring the commissioner's slotting guidelines due to Alderson's previous employment in the commissioner's office, that may not necessarily be the case. Prior to joining the Pirates as team President, Frank Coonelly served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Labor in the commissioner's office, where he negotiated and administered collective bargaining agreements with the MLB Players Association. Accordingly, Coonelly helped to promulgate the slotting guidelines while working with the commissioner, but he and Pirates management have decided to disregard the guidelines since he joined the team. Hopefully Alderson will not feel that he owes Selig a debt of loyalty for his hearty endorsement of Alderson (a la the Wilpons, although the Wilpons' loyalty ostensibly stems from different reasons), and will vigorously implore the Wilpons to ignore these guidelines if he joins the Mets.
Whether the choice is Alderson, Byrnes, or Daniels, it is imperative that the Mets abandon this ridiculous adherence to Selig's slotting guidelines. If pressed by Selig for a reason, the Mets should simply state that they would gladly follow such an edict if it were mandatory for all teams, but they cannot voluntarily handicap themselves while their competitors freely allocate their draft budget according to the team's perception of a player's value.