How a Worldwide Draft Would Affect MLB, the Draft and Balance of Power
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According to Eric Fisher of SportsBusiness Journal, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association could reach an agreement to implement some form of a global draft as early as June 1.
Since its introduction in 1965, the Rule 4 draft, held annually in June, features amateur players from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, while international players outside those countries are eligible to sign as a free agent on their 16th birthday.
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and MLBPA implemented prior to the 2012 season, new restrictions were enforced to limit the amount a team can spend on the Rule 4 draft selections in June, as well as international free agents during a specific, designated signing period beginning in early July.
While the amount allotted to spend on draft picks is determined by a team’s number of selections in the first 10 rounds, international spending was capped at $2.9 million for the 2012-2013 signing period. In both scenarios, teams that spend more than the allotted amount are subject to financial penalties, ranging from additional taxation to loss of future draft picks.
As part of new spending policies ushered in by the CBA, both parties agreed that it was merely the first step toward massively limiting international spending.
But is the implementation of a global draft the best way to accomplish this?
While the idea may sound exciting and progressive in theory, it won’t level the playing field between big- and small-market organizations. More importantly, it has the potential to diminish both the quantity and quality of draft-eligible amateur prospects.
According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney:
Major League Baseball said by sources to be willing to give up significant concessions to union to make international draft happen.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 19, 2013
In return for that international draft, union could get increased minimum salary, less service time required for arbitration, and more.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 19, 2013
This is where the idea of an international draft starts to lose steam. Considering that teams already spend considerably more on arbitration and free-agent signings, why is there suddenly a need to restrict international spending even further?
Most players on any major league roster are making minimum salary, so how do clubs benefit from paying these players more in exchange for an international draft?
Similarly, because teams already spend so much on arbitration—or rather the reworking of a player’s contract in order to avoid arbitration—why are they interested in paying more?
The answer is simple: The interest in a global draft format stems from the potential to limit expenses for owners while improving the earning potential for members of the MLBPA.
Impact on Big- Versus Small-Market Teams
As HardballTalk.com’s Craig Calcaterra argues, the idea behind an international draft has virtually nothing to do with fostering a competitive balance between all 30 clubs:
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International signings cost a fraction of what teams pay for free agents and, in most cases, what teams spend for bonuses in the Rule 4 draft as currently constructed. They even cost less than the baseball operations budgets of most teams. Meaning executives, coaches, scouts and coordinators’ salaries. International free agency, as currently constructed, does nothing to keep so-called poor or small market teams out of the game. To see so, one need only look at the two highest profile international signings: Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes, who went to the Reds and A’s respectively.
In addition to Calcaterra’s examples of the Reds and A’s, small-market teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals—teams that don’t traditionally sign high-profile free agents—have been able to compete due to their success in targeting and developing international players.
However, under the new format, those teams will no longer benefit from a strong presence in the international realm. Rather, their chances at landing a coveted international prospect will be subject to their order in the global draft.
Competitive balance was largely restored through the implementation of a $2.9 million spending limit under the new collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, the interest in further international spending restrictions boils down to the desire of owners to cut costs.
I can’t help but feel that the opinion of future draftees is being utterly ignored. Granted, they are still amateur players and not yet a part of the MLBPA, but still, don't they stand to be affected the most by an international draft format?
As mentioned by Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal, a new draft format would yield either a single global draft or the current draft plus an additional draft specifically for international players.
A unified global draft has the potential to flood the market with an influx of international players, obscuring otherwise draftable talent. Now, I’m not opposed to the idea of an infusion of new players into the draft; the fact that it already includes amateur players from Puerto Rico and Canada is one of my favorite aspects.
But the addition of countless international prospects to the draft also has the potential to discount players who would otherwise be selected. Every organization prides itself on cultivating late-round sleeper prospects into big-league talent.
While I’m not suggesting that these players would be inherently disregarded under the new format, their chances of enjoying a career in Major League Baseball, not to mention landing a respectable signing bonus, are severely diminished.
However, a separate international draft could offset that possibility. In this scenario, the usual 40-round, Rule 4 draft would still occur, followed by a international draft of some capacity. Albeit unnecessary, it’s the best chance at preventing the dilution of amateur prospects.
Negates Savvy International Scouting
With all prospects entered into a unified, global draft, organizations such as the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians will no longer benefit from excellent international scouting.
In essence, every international prospect will be a known commodity to every organization. In turn, the aforementioned teams will no longer be able to target and sign under-the-radar international players and, more importantly, develop them as they see fit.
A recent example can be seen in the Royals' decision to sign 16-year-old shortstop Adalberto Mondesi out of the Dominican Republic for $2 million in 2011.
However, if the new draft format plays out as expected, then the Royals, a relatively small-market organization, will not benefit from targeting and signing such a player. Because a top international talent will be eligible for the global draft, he’s technically fair game to any interested organization.
As is the case with any player already eligible for the Rule 4 draft, it comes down to an organization’s drafting order and spending restrictions.
It would also place a burden on each team’s international scouting department. Suddenly, a whole new crop of prospects will be in play, who will likely be signable for less than they would have received as an international free agent. But even though a team may ultimately spend less on international players in the new draft format, the cost of strengthening its international scouting department could be substantial.
Is a global amateur draft a good idea for Major League Baseball?
Unfortunately, Olney’s tweets portend that some form of an international draft is imminent. And the fact that it’s already being discussed relative to a specific date (June 1) means that things are moving quickly.
While a global draft may be interesting in a change-of-pace kind of way, it’s unnecessary and has the potential to cause more harm than good—especially in terms of diluting the pool of available amateur prospects.
The desire for a global draft is being fueled by the perceived financial gains to be had under such a format. And if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing will stand in the way of greedy owners.
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