First we saw what happened to Puerto Rico as a Baseball talent source once it was included as a US territory and made part of the Rule 4 Amateur Draft. In a nutshell; all the US teams closed whatever academies they may have had on the island and cut back on scouts because there was no longer any competitive advantage to being there and developing talent, and thus the number of players from Puerto Rico has drastically fallen as compared to 20 years ago. The best article on this topic i’ve seens is by Jorge Castillo of the New York Times in Jan 2012.
Next we saw the gutting of the Amateur draft compensation limits, along with limits on International free agency spending as ramroaded into the latest CBA. These guidlines were seemingly put in by cheap owners with poor executive staffs who were tired of having the lower payroll teams eat their lunch by spending a few more million dollars on scouting and player development to gain competitive advantages. You know, instead of just having tens of millions of extra dollars handed to them by Regional Sports Networks in large markets (Jerry Reinsdorf, i’m looking at you here, complicit with the notoriosly cheap Bud Selig).
Now this; now we’re hearing that MLB is actually considering putting in place an International draft. A June 1st deadline exists to take action and apparently both sides (the owners and the Players association) seem to be in favor of this draft in some form. MLB is so interested in getting an international draft that they’re willing to give (per Buster Olney) “significant concessions” to the players union (up to and including higher minimum salaries and lowering the time to arbitration) in order to make it happen. The Union’s argument (as it always has been) goes along the following; amateurs and foreigners aren’t union members, so to hell with them. If we can guarantee ourselves more money, lets do it.
Why is this bad?
Simply put, I do not trust MLB executives and the collective penny pinching, revenue hounding ownership-driven management of the sport to put in place the appropriate resources to off-set what is sure to be a massive pull-out of Latin American countries by all 30 teams if an International Draft is put in place. What possible incentives would a team have to develop talent in a place like the Dominican Republic via a privately funded academy, if their rivals could just swoop in and draft them after they’ve been developed for years on end? I feel that an international draft would destroy the pipeline of Latin American talent into the sport, and it would significantly harm the future of Baseball. It would be like Puerto Rico, only on a grand scale for every country south of the Rio Grande.
All so that the owners can save a few million dollars. The average MLB salary last year was $3.2M, or less than most teams now have as budgets for the entire annual Rule 4 draft. Pennies all-told when compared to the typical 9-figure payrolls they maintain and the hundreds of millions of dollars they earn from gate, concessions, parking, merchandise and TV revenues.
I’m not saying the current situation where 16 year olds are signed and then discarded as washed out 19 year olds in America (and left with no English skills, little education and no future) is good. I’m not saying that a system controlled by underworld Buscones is good either. But I have no faith that MLB will take the proper steps and will invest enough money in these countries to offset the impact of a draft. Zero faith; this is after all the same instution that is currently trying to kill pensions for non-uniformed employees!
I don’t entirely understand why the Players Association is for this either; don’t they understand the long term ramifications of these policies? I mean, amateurs aren’t part of the union … but EVERY major league player once was an amateur and faced all these same issues (whether they were subject to the Rule 4 draft or they had to deal with international free agency or had to deal with the Posting system). Are the players so myopic in pursuit of short-term financial gains that they can’t see what the long term effects will be?
Now, the above alarmism being said, there are pretty significant barriers to an international draft. Take for example the situation going on in Mexico. Mexican clubs demand large transfer fees for their players, and nearly every player of any consequence over the age of 13 “belongs” to a club (much like the old Reserve Clause in the majors, only its even MORE restrictive); how would you draft someone who has a price tag associated with them? The issues with the Mexican league are detailed and highlighted in this excellent SportsonEarth.com story by Jorge Arangure Jr about a lawsuit being filed on behalf of a Mexican prospect who is alleging that he’s being tied to a Mexican club via forged documents. Meanwhile a “handshake” deal exists between MLB and the Japanese league preventing MLB teams from signing Japanese players as youths so as to allow them to go through the “posting system,” which enriches clubs in the country. How do you handle Japanese players in the draft? Does the posting fee count against the international FA limit? It clearly doesn’t now, allowing teams to spend tens of millions of dollars just to acquire the rights to negotiate with Japanese FAs (who come from the industrialized and wealthy Japan) but meanwhile FA teenagers from impoverished Latin American countries now face cap limits on bonuses that often times were little more than a few thousand dollars. How is this situation in any way justifiable?
This isn’t Professional Basketball, where professional leagues are now established and are popular the world over and an international draft in the NBA makes sense because player development occurs naturally without the required investment of the US professional league. There’s no summer-long pro baseball in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela where so many of these players come from; there’s barely organized amateur baseball there outside of the academies run by teams. Sure there’s Winter leagues … but are these winter leagues more for returning players from stateside or showcases for local talent?
If you take these Latin American academies away … you will destroy baseball in the country. And you’ll shut down the pipeline of talented players coming to play in America, which will lessen the sport. Is that really what these owners want?