MLB International Market: To Draft or Not To Draft?

MLB has a new collective bargaining agreement coming up this winter. Could an international draft be a part of it?

International Market Background

Currently the international market with MLB has been set up in a free market sort of matter, with teams able to bid against one another for a player within certain spending caps. Players are able to sign with a big league team as long as they will turn 16 within a given amount of time after the July 2nd international free agent signing period begins, and any player under 23 years old counts against that cap.

Currently players who are older than 23 are not part of the spending cap, and they are able to be signed without restriction by other clubs, except for those restrictions set up with other professional leagues, such as the agreement with Japanese players coming to the United States and the bidding system.

Why is this coming up now?

This November, the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) comes due, and the owners and players will need to negotiate a new one. There is already work being done by lawyers for both sides behind the scenes, and we’re hearing some of the issues that are being discussed, like the qualifying offer, replay, travel, minor league pay, season length, etc.

As reported by numerous sources (link is to a Buster Olney article at ESPN), one proposal that has been discussed before and is now getting some major traction is the idea of an international draft. This draft would be 10 rounds long, and it would first take place in 2018.

Currently, any player who is 16 is eligible to be signed in the international market, and those rules would be grandfathered in until a certain time period, reported by Buster as 2021, but I’ve seen anywhere from 2020 to 2023, when the age would change to 18 as the minimum age.

What will it solve?

Buster’s article mentions the rampant abuse of the current system in place, and it is bad.

Currently, you have issues with teams “hiding” talented players by paying middle men exorbitant salaries to find extremely talented players and then keep them away from broad showcases that are attended by all teams, so that the team paying to hide can sign those players for a low amount. You also have middle men making huge sums of money by “packaging” players, a practice that got the Boston Red Sox in some trouble this summer.

The big thing that many focus on is the lack of education that these young players end up receiving. Many of them end up in a baseball program at the age of 12-13 and are essentially groomed for the international signing period from that point on, getting minimal schooling, and when those players don’t end up making it as a major league baseball player, they have very little to fall back on.

Moving the age to 18 will allow teams to set up better academies that incorporate education for young players along the way, allowing them to build skills that are marketable outside of the game once the game is done with them.

My two cents

As many who reads CTTP frequently knows, I like to dip my hand into scouting and evaluating the minor leagues. Heck, I’m currently working on a piece that should be coming soon on the minor league all star team for 2016, and in November, we’ll roll out team top 10 lists along with a top 100 overall list of prospects. So decisions on how amateur talent are acquired by teams are something that I take notice of when they come across my news feed.

I will say that while a draft may not be the most perfect way to distribute talent due to the inherent restrictions on who can choose a player, which will rile up some who want a free market system for all players, foreign and domestic, right now it is the best way to fix the issues that are hurting the international market. Too often a kid like Omar Luis signs for big money, and then within a few years is not heard from again after he’s made some rough personal decisions with his new-found money and didn’t get the background and education needed along the way.

I’ll be interested to see how this is implemented, but it could be a positive thing for the sport as far as cleaning up some big time shady-ness that has existed in Latin America for years!

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