Major League Baseball continues its quest to implement an international draft, per recent reports from Jeff Passan of ESPN and Ben Badler of Baseball America. MLB has discussed the possibility of introducing a draft by 2020 or 2021, according to Badler, with the league having held talks with members of its Trainer Partnership Program – a group of Latin American trainers known as buscones. To this point, though, the league hasn’t engaged in talks with the MLBPA on the subject of a draft. It’s one of several important issues the two sides will have to iron out before the current collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1, 2021.
Thus far in MLB’s preliminary discussions on the matter, it has considered a 15-round, 450-selection draft with a hard-slotted system, per Badler, who adds teams would be able trade picks. It appears players who go undrafted would be able to sign for up to $50K, though Badler notes that number could change. Players still wouldn’t be able to sign until the age of 16, but clubs have been known to exploit that – which has been a key part of talks between the league and the buscones.
No fewer than four Latin players from the 2021-22 international signing period agreed to deals with teams when they were just 13, Passan reports. Furthermore, some international players drop out of school when they’re as young as 10 to focus on baseball, and Passan writes that performance-enhancing drug use among these children has been incentivized as they attempt to garner interest from MLB clubs. As a result, there are some influential buscones who are on board with a draft, Passan relays. But others are less enthusiastic about the idea because the financial cap on draft picks would further limit the players’ earnings (and the trainers’ in turn).
Under the current system, an international signing period that begins July 2 and runs into the next June, most teams have somewhere between $4.3MM and just under $6.5MM in their bonus pools. The lone exception is the Braves, who have a penniless pool thanks to violations from their previous front office. Back in 2017, the league issued a permanent ban to ex-general manager John Coppolella and stripped the Braves of 13 international prospects thanks to the misdeeds of him and some of his Atlanta cohorts on the foreign market. However, it’s clear there are still seedy elements at play under the present international setup, and it seems that’s on MLB’s mind as it attempts to shift to a draft.
Considering the frayed relationship between the league’s owners and players, this will be a situation worth watching over the next couple years as the two sides try to avoid a work stoppage. Notably, some Latin players – including Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion – have spoken out against an international draft, which Adrian Burgos of La Vida Baseball covered in 2017.