MLB commissioner Rob Manfred discussed the possibility of the introduction of an international draft, coming forward rather strongly in support of the concept, as Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. “I am of the view that at some point, for the good of the game, for the good of competitive balance, we are going to have an international draft,” said Manfred.
The notion of some draft mechanism has, of course, been widely discussed recently, but the newly-minted commissioner’s evident favor toward the idea is a notable development. In the analysis of Baseball America’s Ben Badler, via Twitter, today’s comments represent Manfred’s “strongest words yet on wanting an international draft.” Significant practical considerations remain, of course, although Manfred has already proved a willingness to try new things in implementing new pace-of-play measures.
Manfred emphasized that his comments were aimed in a general direction, and do not necessarily mean that he has designs on a unified draft. “I mean this in the broadest possible sense,” he said. “Whether it’s one draft, two drafts. … I won’t comment on those details. Conceptually a single modality of entry in the draft system has always been very appealing to me.”
In his comments, Manfred indicated that his thinking was driven by recent changes in the international market. Teams have triggered maximum penalties for exceeding their pools on players from countries other than Cuba, but recent political changes have led to increasing numbers of Cuban nationals streaming into free agency — many of them subject to international bonus spending limits. All said, the league’s spending cap system increasingly appears out of date, as Manfred explained:
“Frankly, we thought we made progress on the international side in terms of caps and penalties we put in place,” Manfred explained. “Two years into the deal we felt pretty good about where we were. What happened? With the relaxation that’s taken place with respect of Cuban players it has put a stress test on that international system. Frankly, it’s proved wanting.”
The reason for the cap system, as Manfred frames it, was to ensure “that the weakest team had the ability to get the best talent at an affordable price.” As Badler notes, however, controlling costs is also a key element for the league.
Resolving those considerations and addressing the practical barriers to an international draft will, of course, be matters for the collective bargaining process between the league and player’s union. Manfred expressed confidence in working with his counterpart, MLBPA chief Tony Clark, who also is relatively new to his role. While it is theoretically possible that international changes could be negotiated at any time, the likeliest scenario appears to be that the matter will be a key element in broader talks for a new CBA to replace the Basic Agreement that expires on December 1, 2016.