As reported earlier, several recognizable faces in baseball will speak on behalf of international players to prevent an international draft from being instituted as part of the next collective bargaining agreement. The owners want an international draft as part of a concession from the players’ union in order to abolish the qualifying offer system.
The owners like the idea of an international draft because it means getting elite talent for pennies on the dollar. In the past, international stars like Masahiro Tanaka (seven years, $155 million) have earned contracts rivaling those of top free agents. Putting them into a draft system would allow them to be paid much, much less, comparable to those who are selected in the first round of the amateur draft.
The unfairness in an international draft, then, is obvious. So why do we not have a similar issue with the amateur draft? We should. If the likes of Kyle Schwarber (4th overall, 2014), Kris Bryant (2nd overall, 2013), and Carlos Correa (1st overall, 2012) were allowed to hit the open market as soon as they were eligible, they would command contracts similar to those signed by players like Tanaka. Amateur players are currently shafted almost as much as international players would be if the owners get their way.
Abolishing the amateur draft isn’t on the table during this round of negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement, but it should be in the future. Skeptics say that it’s incredibly risky for owners to have to pay so much money for unproven talent, but that’s the side on which the risk should fall. It should not fall on teenagers and players in their early 20’s, who are forced to live on less than $10,000 a year until they get the call to the major leagues.
At FanGraphs last year, Nathaniel Grow pointed out that, in 2002, player salaries accounted for more than 56 percent of league revenues. Today, the percentage is 38. The owners have done a very good job of using recent CBAs — like instituting the qualifying offer system — to tamp down the amount of money spent on talent. Teams have also become much smarter and more efficient with their spending. As a result, free agency is no longer the best place to find elite talent. Teams now are investing in statistics and scouting (both home and abroad) and abusing service time rules in order to milk out as much labor as possible before their players become eligible for arbitration and free agency.
We need to see a correction that brings the player salaries percentage closer to 50. It’s unlikely to be done in one fell swoop, but preventing the adoption of an international draft while still abolishing the QO system would be a great start. Then, tackle the amateur draft with the next CBA.