Will the international draft hurt Dominican baseball like it hurt baseball in Puerto Rico?

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Thumbnail image for dominican republic flag.jpgI’m opposed to the the imposition of an international draft during the next round of collective bargaining for a few reasons. For one thing, I think it will be a logistical and political nightmare, as would anything that requires even the tacit participation of a guy like Hugo Chavez. I also tend to find it unseemly that a bunch of guys — current players — are able and willing to toss the rights of teenagers in other countries over the side at a U.S. collective bargaining table. I’ll grant, however, that those issues are more philosophical than practical, so it’s not like I expect anyone to take them too seriously.

More practically and more significantly, I worry that an international draft would eliminate the incentive for major league teams to go out and work hard to
develop amateurs in places like the Dominican
Republic, building academies and the like. I mean, why would they make such an investment if they would have absolutely no inside track to any of the talent they find there? If you’re the Astros, are you really going to want to see the Cardinals draft the talent you discovered and developed? Of course not.  And this isn’t just hypothetical. Look at Puerto Rico. Before 1990, there was no draft there, and all kinds of
Puerto Rican talent flowed into the Major Leagues. Since then: baseball
has declined horribly in Puerto Rico
, and most observers blame the draft.

But perhaps my concerns on this have been overstated.  ESPN’s Jorge Arangure has a take on this today that’s definitely worth a read.  In it he argues that the fate which befell amateur baseball in Puerto Rico won’t necessarily happen to the Dominican Republic because baseball and its attendant income is simply much more important to people in the latter than in the former:

Could what happened in Puerto Rico happen in the Dominican?

The
simple answer is that it doesn’t seem as likely. The difference lies in
economics. An international draft will almost surely bring down bonus
amounts, but that will have less of an impact in the Dominican where
nearly half of the residents live under the poverty line and the Gross
Domestic Product per capita is in the $5,000-$8,500 range, depending on
the source. This means that claiming even a $5,000-$10,000 signing bonus will have a
substantial affect on a family in the Dominican, much more so than it
would in Puerto Rico where the GDP per capita is around $18,000.

I hadn’t considered the monetary angle of it.  Is the greater need to earn an living from baseball in the Dominican Republic enough to overcome the disincentive on the part of the teams to find talent?  Hard to say, but it may be. It certainly could work to lessen the impact of development divestment on the part of the teams. Of course, it may increase the profile of buscones too, as someone is going to have to find that talent when the ballclubs reign in their development budgets to concentrate on players closer to draft age as opposed to finding younger players they wish to woo.

I still remain opposed to an international draft — those philosophical objections still nag — but Arangure’s article has certainly made me rethink the competitive impacts of such a beast a bit.  As we get closer to the new CBA negotiations, I’ll continue to rethink and (gasp!) research it a bit more.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.