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Let's spend a week talking about revamping the draft

Dec 14, 2009, 9:30 AM EDT

The biggest item on the table when the Collective Bargaining Agreement is renegotiated at the end of 2011 will be the amateur draft.  And it’s not just one item, really, it’s a handful of them, including (a) internationalizing the draft; (b) instituting “hard slotting” for bonuses; and (c) allowing the trading of draft picks, among other things. Today MLB.com begins a week-long series on the draft, beginning with taking it international.

The league typically cites a litany of problems when arguing in favor of the international draft, including concerns of age fraud, exploitation of the players by buscones, rampant corruption and overall cost. I’ve written at length on these issues before, and the chief thing to take away from it is that when it comes to talking about an international draft, the league tries to conflate all of these issues into one giant problem that is inherent in international free agency when, in fact, they are many separate issues, most of which could be solved without the institution of an international draft.

The worst of the corruption has come from team employees, not anyone in foreign countries, and if teams would police their own better, we wouldn’t have the bonus skimming scandals we’ve seen.

Fighting fraud isn’t made any easier with a draft. As it stands now, teams have to figure out how old a given player is. Under a draft the league would have to do it.  It’s not like the problem goes away.

As for the money, imposing cost controls are totally within the team’s power now. They are free to negotiate with the players as they see fit. No one is forcing them to give millions to a sixteen year-old, they just don’t have the discipline to do due diligence and hold the line on these things. And really, these allegedly huge bonuses are not as big a problem as the league makes them out to be.  The entire league pays around $50 million a year in international signing bonuses. That’s $1.66 million per team.  That’s way less than teams pay out to American draftees, and in a world where teams think that guys like Jason Kendall and Pudge Rodriguez are worth way more than that for a single year, it’s rounding error.

So if the costs aren’t that great, and the problems with international free agency fixable, why the push for an international draft?  I think it’s ideological more than anything else. The league has an overriding aversion to free agency of any kind, and if they can partially stamp it out, they will. With a little work, they can stamp it out in Latin America and other places, so why not give it a whirl?

Not that it will be easy. For it to work, the countries involved have to sign off.  You think the Domincan Republic is going to agree to a system that (a) limits its citizens options in the marketplace; (b) lowers the incentives for teams to invest in training academies and scouting trips within the country; and (c) puts a bunch of its own people out of work (buscones are part of the economy, you know)?  And even if the Dominican Republic does, what makes you think Hugo Chavez will sign off on the plans of the American Imperialists?

The international draft is an interesting topic. But it’s not as necessary, and certainly not as easy, as its proponents usually care to admit.

  1. Will - Dec 14, 2009 at 10:00 AM

    I say “nay” to the international draft. In fact, I think they should get rid of the draft entirely. It is unfair to North American amateurs in that they get paid far less than market value and do not get to choose their employer. Honestly, how fair is it that the Natinals incompetence landed them Strasburg and will land them Bryce Harper?

  2. Old Gator - Dec 14, 2009 at 10:46 AM

    Oh boy. This subject is definitely not going to be a barren source of amusement.
    Let’s talk about the Dominican Republic first. Some years back they made it illegal to export endangered rhinoceros iguanas (Cyclura cornuta). They’re the big gray ones with the big bulging jowls, horns on their noses (hence…) and a bulldog-like stance that reminds you of Mayor Daley the First, and a tendency to spit, hiss, snap, projectile defecate and lash their tails at you even when you’re across the room – kinda like having a Phillies fan in your terrarium. But, lo and behold, walk into any semi-legitimate reptile dealer in Miami, and there’s one for sale at an exorbitant price to anyone whose mother-in-law has just died and they’re pining for the lost abuse. Ergo, there’s already an international draft in place for rhinoceros iguanas. It hasn’t worked well. So I agree it would be a mistake to try and treat little fetal shortstops from San Pedro de Macoris the same way. And anyhow, even if the goal were to control the flood of Dominican shortstops into MLB, they’d just disguise them as Cuban Olympic squad defectors and float them up on South Beach.
    Ah, now we come to Venezuela, where the Feesh’s last real closer is still sitting in jail and likely will be until they find him a winter ball team to manage. Hugo Chavez still hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with Miguel Cabrera’s Tiger Woods escapades, the price and availability of chicken, the dynamics of exercise and weight loss (and he ain’t gonna hire Gilad Janklowicz as a personal trainer ’cause he doesn’t like Israeli Hawaiians very much, and he ain’t gonna hire Jilian Michaels ’cause she scares the shit out of him) or where to find anyone who can repair a Chinese Kelly spinner. That, and he’s busy correcting the spelling mistakes in his last new constitution. I don’t think that he’s got the time to worry about Imperialist designs in baseball very much; he only permits Venezuelan nationals to play here because thinks that the minor leagues are a system of collective farming – and really, when you get down to it, aside from his conviction that the major leagues will become some sort of variation on the same theme, how wrong is he after all?

  3. Ron - Dec 14, 2009 at 11:45 AM

    I agree with the international draft, but on a limited basis. As in, it should be limited to countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Australia (when it starts up again) and other countries that have a legitmate, viable major league (albeit somewhat minor in quality).
    There, the players have options, and opening the draft to both countries (both ways, let American players be drafter in other countries and be given an option) and it would be more equitable all around. If a player is drafted in more than one country, he has leverage as far as his contract. That should provide more of an open market that Will was talking about, without going too crazy resources.
    In other areas, such as Europe, South America, Africa, and Oceania, the system should remain the same. There, the club system should produce players and scouting should be the key. The leagues are getting better, and the players are good, but they aren’t of a quality yet to participate in the draft.
    It could be a sign of coming of age. When the players in your country are subject to the draft, it’s a sign that you’ve achieved status as a top-level baseball country.
    I’m no expert on international baseball, but I’m not clueless, and that would seem to be the best solution.

  4. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Dec 14, 2009 at 1:01 PM

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are suggesting that a draft be held where teams from other countries get to pick alongside MLB for players? That’s not what’s being suggested by an international draft.
    The international draft means throwing all international free agents into a draft, or join the current amateur draft, and not have them file as free agents as they do now. It’d be a logistical nightmare and almost a 0% chance of happening.

  5. Ron - Dec 14, 2009 at 1:25 PM

    I didn’t say anything about picking alongside MLB. Each of those countries either run, or can run, their own drafts. In which American, Canadian and Puerto Rican players can be drafted in those countries.
    Why is there an assumption that MLB can draft players from other countries without our players also being subjected to the draft from other countries?
    Everyone complains about the draft in terms of open market. Well, that opens the market. Wha if Stausberg could have signed a contract in Japan to pitch for a 2 years, instead of having to go to the Nationals? Would his eventual contract went up or down? That’s an open market. For all parties concerned.
    The assumption that MLB is the only game being played is what killed baseball in the Olympics and hurts the WBC. Baseball is a global sport, and needs to be administered as such. Even if Bud hasn’t figured it out yet.

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