Major League Baseball is pushing hard to implement an international draft in the current wave of collective bargaining negotiations with the MLB Players Association, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney. The international draft would be a centerpiece in the changes brought forth with the new CBA, per Olney. The current agreement, which was collectively bargained in the 2011-12 offseason, expires in December.
According to Olney, current proposals have the first 10-round international draft slated for March 2018, and by the year 2021, the minimum age requirement for international draft eligibility would be 18 — a departure from the current system, which allows players to sign as early as their 16th birthday. The league would also operate facilities in the Dominican Republic where international talent could hone their skills before reaching the age of draft eligibility. Under MLB’s proposal, Olney reports that international draftees would receive bonuses that are comparable to those received by players currently selected in the annual June amateur (Rule 4) draft.
The current international signing system has come under great scrutiny, as the unregulated nature of negotiations with teams often leads to corruption. Trainers and handlers for prospects often are able to lay claim to a significant portion of prospects’ signing bonuses and, as Olney writes, at times to extract fees from teams in exchange for delivering talent. He adds that with no testing for international prospects, many teenagers are motivated to use performance enhancing drugs in order to secure a higher signing bonus on their first deal. Beyond that, there have been several harrowing tales of human trafficking to smuggle Cuban players into the country in exchange for exorbitant payments. In writing about this matter earlier this spring, Olney’s colleague Pedro Gomez cited an anonymous player that defected from Cuba within the past few years who said that he would be on the hook for payments to a cartel for the remainder of his Major League career.
As Olney notes, an international draft would be welcome by a number of small- and mid-market clubs due largely to the fact that the current measures implemented in the most recent CBA haven’t fostered the level of competitive balance for which the involved parties strove. The current CBA implemented slots and allotted bonus pools for both the amateur draft as well as international free agency, but only the penalties relating to the amateur draft have curbed spending as had been hoped.
The current international system bans any team that exceeds its league-allotted bonus pool by more than 15 percent from signing an international amateur for more than $300K for the next two signing periods — that penalty was only for one year in the first year of the system’s existence — but that hasn’t prevented teams from determining that the upside is greater than the punishment. To date, the Cubs, Red Sox, Rangers, Yankees, Dodgers and others have gone on extensive international spending sprees in order to bolster their farm systems in one fell swoop. While some small-market/lower-payroll clubs have also exceeded their limits — e.g. the Rays and Reds — the level at which they’ve exceeded international spending limitations hasn’t come close to the levels at which others have over-spent. The Red Sox, for interest, issued a $31.5MM signing bonus to Yoan Moncada (which came with a 100 percent luxury tax, bringing the total to $63MM) despite only possessing a $1.881MM bonus pool that season. The Dodgers, meanwhile, spent upwards of $90MM during that same international signing period (including luxury tax penalization).
Certainly, there are hurdles to be cleared in agreeing to any sort of international draft. Incorporating players from multiple countries, age and identity verification, PED testing/regulation and a number of other roadblocks figure to require a great deal of work, but there are incentives for all parties involved to standardize the means by which teams acquire amateur talent. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has long been an advocate for eventually finding a way to implement an international draft, stating during Spring Training 2015: “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.”