1:00pm: Alden Gonzalez and Jeff Passan of ESPN add some further details (Twitter links). The top pick’s slot value is actually a slight bit higher than previously reported, landing at $5.5125MM. That’s due to MLB upping the size of each slot value from the weekend by a matter of five percent. Gonzalez notes that MLB is “flexible” on the $20K cap for undrafted free agents, though the extent to which the league is willing to bend isn’t totally clear.
Passan writes that rather than set the draft order based on record, teams would be broken up into “pods” which would rotate every year. Castrovince suggested a similar setup this weekend, writing that pods of six clubs would rotate through the draft order each year; in other words, Pod A would have selections one through six in a given year, then seven through twelve the following season, etc. Passan posits “pod” sizes of seven or eight teams rather than six (thus giving teams a crack at the top of the draft every fourth year rather than every fifth), but the general concept remains the same.
11:50am: Newsday’s Tim Healey tweets that under MLB’s proposal, the international draft would not go into effect until 2024. That’s surely vital for Latin American players, as some prominent figures have stressed that if implemented, the finer details should not be rushed.
Among those prominent voices is Red Sox icon David Ortiz, who spoke passionately in a message to his countrymen from the Dominican Republic today (Twitter thread via ESPN’s Jeff Passan). Ortiz stressed the importance of the league and players working together to get the specifics of the draft right. Ortiz adds:
“Baseball is such a big thing in the Dominican. Baseball keeps kids off the streets. We don’t want that to walk away from us. We want it to get better. That’s my focus. Nothing else. We have the youth. People wanting to be me, Pedro, Pujols. We can’t let that go away. At the end of the day, I don’t want those kids to be affected by it. I already played baseball. I had a career. I care about the kids being treated right. I understand MLB wants to have control over everything they do, but you’re not going to change the system overnight. Baseball is one of the secret weapons of the Dominican economy. If you talk about a draft here in the states, you have choices. You can do football, basketball. … Dominican has baseball to make your way out. That’s it. You have to be careful.”
11:00am: The potential implementation of an international draft has become a focal point in collective bargaining between MLB and the Players Association as gaps elsewhere in negotiations begin to close. Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reported last night that the international draft is one of the largest remaining obstacles in talks. The league, reportedly, is seeking to trade an elimination of the qualifying offer system for the draft — a concept they’d already proposed in prior packages. Of course, everything in these package proposals is dependent on other factors, so the league now using the QO elimination as a “give” in exchange for the international draft likely just reflects the manner in which other elements of the proposals have ebbed and flowed.
In some new developments on the topic of the proposed international draft, Maria Torres and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic report this morning that MLB’s latest proposal included a slot value of $5.5MM for the No. 1 overall pick (Twitter thread). That’s up slightly from the league’s weekend proposal, wherein MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince reported that MLB was positing a potential $5.25MM slot value for the first pick of a 20-round draft. Slots would be hard-capped and picks could be traded, per Castrovince, as opposed to the soft-capped “recommended” slot values in the domestic draft, where picks cannot be traded (save for those awarded via the Competitive Balance Lottery). The newly proposed $5.5MM top overall slot value is still miles shy of the $8.415MM first overall slot value from this past summer’s domestic amateur draft; today’s $250K bump narrowly pushes the top international slot’s value past the No. 7 overall slot value from the 2021 amateur draft.
Major League Baseball’s pitch to the union is that the proposed slot values could generate as much as $23MM in additional spending on international amateurs in a given year, per Torres. She adds that the final 100 slots in the draft would be valued at a combined $3.3MM, whereas MLB has pointed out to the union that the bottom 100 bonuses in the past couple of signing periods have averaged about $1.78MM in total. Notably, that particular spin ignores that the “bottom 100 bonuses” in prior signing periods is not necessarily equivalent to the “bottom 100 slots” in an international draft where only a finite number of players (600) can be selected. Torres notes that undrafted international amateurs could still sign, but Rosenthal tweets that bonuses would be capped at $20K.
Regardless of specific permutations on the late rounds and undrafted amateurs, there’s still some considerable pushback against the concept from the players’ end of things — particularly among Latin American big leaguers. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has publicly pushed back, telling El Caribe (Twitter link):
“The International Draft is going to kill baseball in [Dominican Republic]. It’s going to affect us a lot, because there will be many young people who used to give them the opportunity to get a bonus and with the draft it will not be the same.”
ESPN’s Marly Rivera reports that many Latin American players share those concerns, adding that the general sentiment among Puerto Rican players is that their entry into the amateur draft has stunted the development of baseball on the whole. Astros catcher Martin Maldonado, originally drafted by the Angels out of Dr. Juan J. Nunez high school in Puerto Rico, tweeted this morning that he “agrees 100%” with the concerns raised by Tatis.
As Rivera further notes, MLB’s position on the international draft is that it will help to regulate some of the many improprieties that currently exist on the international market. It’s a poorly kept secret that verbal agreements between Major League teams and international amateurs are in place years before those players are eligible to sign on their 16th birthdays; Major League scouts are regularly evaluating players before they even reach their teenage years, and players can have verbal agreements with teams as early as 13 or 14 years of age. Additional concerns include steroid usage among baseball hopefuls during those critical formative years, as well as exploitative behavior from many “buscones” who arrange deals between teams and amateur players.
The pushback from the union, presumably, is that these improprieties can be corrected without the implementation of an amateur draft. Major League Baseball has rules and regulations in place that are intended to bar early agreements of this nature. However, with the exception of former Braves GM John Coppolella being banned for circumventing those rules, punishments have been few and far between. Even after Coppolella’s ouster, early deals have continued. As Mike Axisa of CBS Sports explored recently, MLB could crack down on corruption on the international market by simply choosing to enforce its own typically ignored rules and regulations.
All that said, the draft system does figure to have some benefits for international amateurs. MLB’s current system is hard-capped, and while the draft wouldn’t change that, the simple fact that the combined value of the draft slots being proposed exceeds the combined value of the current international bonus pools means more money will go to those amateurs. Further, even though the league could likely cut down on corruption without implementing the draft, that does not change the fact that the draft ought to nevertheless curtail those early agreements. (Other forms of corruption, of course, will be more difficult to suppress.)
For the players, concerns surely remain about the potential stunting of baseball’s growth in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia and other markets. It’s also a clear negative for a player not to be able to choose his first team and to not be able to negotiate more openly. The draft could potentially lead to fewer high-dollar deals for the market’s very best prospects — depending on the exact distribution of slot values.
Ultimately, given the manner in which the two sides have begun to move closer to an agreement on other elements of the deal, it seems hard to imagine the finer points of an international draft truly scuttling a deal. It’s clear there’s still work to be done, though, and much of it will center around this topic.