Let's spend a week talking about revamping the draft


The biggest item on the table when the Collective Bargaining Agreement is renegotiated at the end of 2011 will be the amateur draft.  And it’s not just one item, really, it’s a handful of them, including (a) internationalizing the draft; (b) instituting “hard slotting” for bonuses; and (c) allowing the trading of draft picks, among other things. Today MLB.com begins a week-long series on the draft, beginning with taking it international.

The league typically cites a litany of problems when arguing in favor of the international draft, including concerns of age fraud, exploitation of the players by buscones, rampant corruption and overall cost. I’ve written at length on these issues before, and the chief thing to take away from it is that when it comes to talking about an international draft, the league tries to conflate all of these issues into one giant problem that is inherent in international free agency when, in fact, they are many separate issues, most of which could be solved without the institution of an international draft.

The worst of the corruption has come from team employees, not anyone in foreign countries, and if teams would police their own better, we wouldn’t have the bonus skimming scandals we’ve seen.

Fighting fraud isn’t made any easier with a draft. As it stands now, teams have to figure out how old a given player is. Under a draft the league would have to do it.  It’s not like the problem goes away.

As for the money, imposing cost controls are totally within the team’s power now. They are free to negotiate with the players as they see fit. No one is forcing them to give millions to a sixteen year-old, they just don’t have the discipline to do due diligence and hold the line on these things. And really, these allegedly huge bonuses are not as big a problem as the league makes them out to be.  The entire league pays around $50 million a year in international signing bonuses. That’s $1.66 million per team.  That’s way less than teams pay out to American draftees, and in a world where teams think that guys like Jason Kendall and Pudge Rodriguez are worth way more than that for a single year, it’s rounding error.

So if the costs aren’t that great, and the problems with international free agency fixable, why the push for an international draft?  I think it’s ideological more than anything else. The league has an overriding aversion to free agency of any kind, and if they can partially stamp it out, they will. With a little work, they can stamp it out in Latin America and other places, so why not give it a whirl?

Not that it will be easy. For it to work, the countries involved have to sign off.  You think the Domincan Republic is going to agree to a system that (a) limits its citizens options in the marketplace; (b) lowers the incentives for teams to invest in training academies and scouting trips within the country; and (c) puts a bunch of its own people out of work (buscones are part of the economy, you know)?  And even if the Dominican Republic does, what makes you think Hugo Chavez will sign off on the plans of the American Imperialists?

The international draft is an interesting topic. But it’s not as necessary, and certainly not as easy, as its proponents usually care to admit.