With the first overall pick of the 2000 June amateur draft, the Florida Marlins took Adrian Gonzalez. But what if Hanley Ramirez, who signed just a month later with the Boston Red Sox, had been available to them? Florida ended up trading for Ramirez in November 2005, and Gonzalez would later find his way to Boston, but one cannot help but wonder how baseball history might be different in that hypothetical world.
It may not be hypothetical forever. Major League Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLB Players Association expires at the end of the 2011 season. No one much expects a situation similar to those of the NFL or NBA, but some changes certainly seem to be in the offering. Specifically, Commissioner Bud Selig has said he wants to make one or more major changes to the annual June Amateur Draft.
Selig has long supported a hard slotting system for amateur players' initial contract bonuses, wherein the league would set limits on the amount that can be promised to a player based upon where he is drafted. Lately, he has also supported the notion of extending the scope of the Draft to include international players, i.e. amateurs in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Korea and elsewhere.
The implications of those potential changes are sweeping and varied. The players most affected are the guys from the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific Rim who are currently free agents once they turn 16. The thought process behind dumping them into the Draft is to spread the wealth a bit: Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Twins have had huge success signing players from those areas, while others have struggled to match the budget those squads devote to player development and international scouting.
Problematically, though, teams have different degrees of international involvement to begin with. Ranking players is a nightmare because the overwhelming majority of even the best foreign amateurs are known to only five or six teams. Some teams have academies in Venezuela, Japan (where this probably would not take effect anyway because of prior agreements between MLB and Nippon Professional baseball) and certain countries in Europe; some teams do not.
The problem is not merely one of competitive balance, but also of logistics. In the current market, it is much cheaper to acquire amateur players from other countries. Those players come from poorer backgrounds, have less professional representation and have many fewer options, and so sign for much less. The inherent inequity of that system would have to resolve itself if the players were all being acquired in the same fashion.
Moreover, there is a much higher rate of attrition through the minor leagues with international prospects. In effect, making the Draft international would force teams to spend more money across the board while getting less certainty in return. Selig's hard slotting system would force losing teams (even small-market ones like Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay) to pay more each year than contenders.
Owners and players association reps seem open to the idea, but thankfully (as it is a bad idea in general) they seem unlikely to find enough common ground on the complicated implementation of this concept to successfully install these changes.
Matt Trueblood is a National MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and for AtHomePlate.com. He is on twitter @MattTrueblood. Matt will graduate with a degree in journalism from Loyola University Chicago in May