Buster Olney of ESPN reports that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are in negotiations regarding the implementation on an international draft. This is part of the larger Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations currently ongoing.
This would not be the first time MLB and the union have discussed this — the matter came up in 2013 as well — but it seems to be the farthest along the sides have ever gotten on the matter. Olney reports that, as the proposal currently stands, the draft would begin in March of 2018. It would last ten rounds. The minimum age for draft-eligible players would be 18 years old by 2021. Signing bonuses would be pegged at an amount roughly corresponding to the current slots U.S., Canadian and Puerto Rican players receive when drafted today.
As of now teams can sign 16-year-old international free agents. While there are currently pools and caps reining in how much a club can spend collectively on international free agents, there is no limit per player. The draft would end that system. And would likely end the system in which clubs set up training academies in places like the Dominican Republic, as no one team would have an incentive to train any specific player if others could draft him. Those would be replaced by MLB-run academies.
We’ve argued many, many times that an international draft represents an unnecessary limitation of the market for international players. The idea that “small-market” teams can’t afford top amateur talent is simply wrong, as the dollar figures involved for these amateur players are low relative to the size of even a low-revenue team’s annual baseball operations budget. Once the international pool system came into place certain penalties and inefficiencies came into play that did, in fact, serve to give advantages to richer clubs like the Dodgers, but when it was simply a matter of clubs signing international free agents as they wished, all clubs competed ably if they chose to do so.
An international draft saves clubs the expense of operating academies on their own dime, and clubs like that. It reduces the amount of money that goes to international players in general and clubs like that too. As do, I suspect, current MLBPA members who, likely believe that money not spent on non-union players may trickle their way, are thus are totally fine with negotiating away the bargaining rights of others. There is very little to suggest that the draft will bolster competitive balance, however. Likewise, claims that it will limit the excesses and influence of the buscones who find talent and bring it to the attention of MLB clubs are well-intentioned, but are unfounded. Someone will still be bringing the teenagers to MLB’s attention, won’t they? And those someones will likely still be taking cuts from the kids. Only this time their cut will be from a smaller pie and the cutting of the pie will likely be pushed further into the dark.
We are continually told by certain types of folks that freedoms are better than limitations and that the power to sell one’s goods or services in maximal fashion and with maximal leverage is best. That apparently doesn’t apply to baseball players, however. And it will soon apply even less to baseball players from other countries than it currently does.