The Amateur Draft: Why Not Have Two?

There has been a lot of discussion over the past year about the logistics of turning the June amateur draft into an international affair, which would include players from around the world and would eliminate international free agency. The idea is valid, but the best route to take is to create two separate drafts; this would leave the June draft as is, and create another draft solely for the world prospects.

This draft would be held during either the otherwise-boring General Managers Meeting in November, or the increasingly boring Winter Meetings. At one point, the amateur draft actually featured three separate drafts in one year and, as recently had 1986, had two drafts (January and June) – so this is not an entirely out-of-left-field idea. By having the draft in November or December, it would allow teams the opportunity to disperse scouting staffs from college and high school stadiums, to parks in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia, Europe, etc.

Major League Baseball would have to take a huge lead in this venture, obviously, which could include the creation of an MLB International Scouting Bureau. Each year, players would have to submit applications to be eligible for drafting considerations. It would be done early enough for Major League Baseball to run background checks on players to prove their identities and ages. To help teams scout players, showcases and tournaments would be held in various locations so scouts and executives can see the players perform against similarly skilled talent. Teams could certainly do their own scouting, as well.

As for draft order, the flawed and archaic Elias Rankings (or perhaps something a little more accurate) could continue to be used for the June draft. For the world draft, teams would be awarded a pre-determined value for each of their free agents, such as 4 WAR for a Type-A free agent, 2 WAR for a Type-A and 0.5 WAR for a Type-C. If the St. Louis Cardinals, for example, had four free agents, including one A, two B and one C, then their accumulated value would be 8.5 WAR. The team with the highest total would draft first, and so on.

If two or more teams were to end up with the same total, the order would be decided amongst those teams based on the accumulated service time that each free agent had for their team. So a player obtained at the July trade deadline would have much less value than a player with 10 years of service time with the same club. This system would allow a much different draft order for the world draft. If you wanted to change it up a bit, the draft ranking could instead be based on the previous year’s free agent crop, to take into consideration the players that actually left via free agency, rather than the current year where some players may actually be re-signed by their respective clubs.

Another option to the standard draft order process would be to have it as an auction-style draft, where everyone has a legitimate shot at signing each player, assuming they’re willing to pay the big bucks. This would also, theoretically, help control the bonuses handed out.

To be honest, I can’t really think of any negatives that would be associated with having two separate drafts, aside from the increase in costs for teams (scouting staffs, travel) and Major League Baseball (administration, etc.). From a logistics standpoint, creating a separate draft would be much easier than trying to re-vamp the current amateur draft, which seems to work fairly well (bonus demands aside).




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


35 Responses to “The Amateur Draft: Why Not Have Two?”

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  1. Kevin S. says:

    To be honest, I can’t really think of any negatives that would be associated with having two separate drafts,

    The ghost of Puerto Rican baseball says hi.

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    • Mr. Sanchez says:

      Ed Zachary

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    • JDSussman says:

      Yup! That is the first thing I thought of. Sadly, this idea would kill international baseball (even though it is very well intended).

      Also, the service time idea is a bad one, imho. If you are pooling both WAR and service time there is no way to distinguish between a utility player who has been with a team forever and a guy like Todd Helton.

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    Why can’t foreign players just be in the June draft?

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    • Trevor says:

      That would mean a lot of players in one draft. I like the idea of having a draft during the off-season.

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    • spindoctor says:

      its already 3 days long…MLB can spin a 2nd draft into more PR for the sport, more fan interest.

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  3. Temo says:

    A lot of international signees are developed at team-owned baseball academies and signed as 16-18 year olds. How would this fit into your international draft? It seems one of two things would happen:

    – Teams would just draft the players they’ve been developing in their academies.
    – Some teams would “steal” players that other teams have been developing.

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    • delv says:

      Good point, but not only are there MLB-owned academies, but also players that play in non-MLB teams/leagues/academies. Why should the MLB have eminent domain over all baseball players? How far would this draft extend? How about the Mexican leagues? Japan? Having to pay posting fees to buy contractually-obligated players from other leagues serves a purpose, and we can’t just altogether do away with it without either some other sort of compensation or an all-out integration of global baseball leagues.

      This whole idea reeks of American hegemonic presumptiousness.

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  4. George says:

    ‘For the world draft, teams would be awarded a pre-determined value for each of their free agents, such as 4 WAR for a Type-A free agent, 2 WAR for a Type-A and 0.5 WAR for a Type-C. If the St. Louis Cardinals, for example, had four free agents, including one A, two B and one C, then their accumulated value would be 8.5 WAR. The team with the highest total would draft first, and so on.”

    Which will tend to result in the best teams with the oldest players getting the first draft picks while young teams with bad records will choose last.

    You’re a Yankees fan, I take it?

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Not to mention, this system also creates an incentive to not re-sign veteran players. So teams would gain draft picks for letting older players walk, and other teams would lose draft picks for signing them–in two drafts! For every veteran lost, teams would get more and better and cheaper young talent. For some reason, I can see the players union opposing this.

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  5. Gina says:

    We shouldn’t have two because then the mets would be screwed.

    Also wouldn’t US labor laws prevent this? Or at least it would mean the players wouldn’t be able to be drafted until they were 18.

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  6. No I in blog says:

    I don’t understand this ELIAS rankings business. Why not just have the draft go in reverse order of the standings? Or do you mean for supplemental picks?

    I don’t think it makes sense to reward the worst team each year with BOTH the #1 USA pick and the #1 international pick, so I think the two pools should be combined into one draft as they are in hockey. Free agent compensation should continue similar to how it is now, but I think draft picks should be able to be traded. This would allow a bad team with little money to trade a pick likely to command a high signing bonus for something more cost-controlled.

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  7. Josh says:

    Because we don’t want Dominican Baseball becoming Puerto Rican baseball. They have a whole establishment of scouts, academies, and little leagues down there. Obviously, their system has its well publicized flaws but a draft may destroy it, not fix it.

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  8. The draft in June is almost totally determined by winning record. I think the author mistakenly was talking about how the order is done for the supplemental draft in between rounds. But that is not how the draft is done.

    While I understand the logic the author has regarding this international draft, what would probably happen is that the MLB would use losses again to determine the draft and that would reward the worse teams twice for their lousiness.

    And even if there could be some system (and suggesting WAR is not realistic) of ranking teams by their free agent losses, what this would do is reward the teams with the most free agent losses with stronger prospects, even if we remove the current system of supplemental picks and losing picks for signing free agents.

    Using bonuses as a proxy for where they would have ended up in the amateur draft, giving the team with the most free agent losses (by whatever measure that is used) would be giving them much more than what they are getting now. Right now, the most a team could expect would be a 16th pick overall and the 31st (roughly) pick overall in the supplemental, and typically around the 25th pick overall and 40th pick overall. Neither are very likely to become a good player, maybe odds of around 15% chance. The top international free agents have gotten from $2M to $4M, roughly between 4th and 10th overall picks bonus money, where the odds of them making the majors is more around 25%. That is a much larger reward than they are getting now for free agent losses.

    So, while I think this is a very interesting idea, the way it is set up does not work for me.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    I think if you want to play in MLB, you enter the draft. It doesn’t matter to me where you were born, where you played little league, what color your skin is, or what language your mom sang you to sleep as an infant.

    Having everyone in the draft places all players and teams on equal footing. If you want to play in MLB, you must make yourself eligible for the draft.

    Why should playing in a non-MLB league keep you out of the draft but eligible for ROY.

    Why shouldn’t Bryce Harper allow teams to give him $40M to start negotiating?

    All players enter the June draft. It’s so simple, it might just work.

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  10. JP says:

    There is a moral, non-baseball related argument here.

    The draft takes away a prospect’s ability to leverage the market to maximize his contract value. For example, though Strasburg signed a record $15 million contract, Aroldis Chapman was able to land a $30 million deal since there was open bidding for this services. The draft takes away this bidding process. The draft essentially gives billionaire owners a huge advantage in contract negotiations. But okay, that’s a necessary evil to help ensure that crummy teams have a crack at landing top young talent.

    However, with international players, we’re talking about many young kids who are coming from serious poverty. Under the current system, teams have to bid against each other to land the top foreign prospects. The large majority of these kids will never have long careers in the majors, so their initial signing bonus could genuinely be life-changing money. Creating an international draft would seriously undermine international prospects’ negotiation leverage.

    In essence, an international draft would harm many extremely poor teenagers, all to make the cost of business a bit cheaper for American billionaires.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      When top IFAs get the same dollar amounts as the Tim Reddings of the world, I have a hard time with claims that they’re being paid too much.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      So poor people from foreign countries deserve huge signing bonuses but poor people from the United States and Canada don’t?

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      • jp says:

        Sure, American prospects get hurt by the draft too (see Strasburg getting $15 million vs. Aroldis Chapman getting $30 million.) A draft does harm prospects, domestic or international.

        But America is a much much richer place than the Dominican Republic. Sure there are poor prospects in the US, but it’s not like the breadth and depth of poverty amongst prospects in say, the Dominican Republic, where about 1/7 people live on less than $2 a day.

        Drafts are inherently unfair to prospects, but are arguably necessary to sustain some measure of competitive balance. Does having an open market for international players really skew competitive balance though? It doesn’t appear to. Given that, I don’t think we ought to change to rules, and impose artificially lower incomes on people who may already be living in abject poverty.

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    • Gina says:

      Not all IFA’s get those types of signing bonuses though. In fact the majority don’t even hit six figures. Jenrry Meija, the mets top pitching prospect, for example only got a 16,000 dollar signing bonus. If he had been an American prep arm and gone to college and put up the season he did in A ball he would have likely been a first round pick at least.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Jenrry Meija, the mets top pitching prospect, for example only got a 16,000 dollar signing bonus. If he had been an American prep arm and gone to college and put up the season he did in A ball he would have likely been a first round pick at least.

        That’s what I was getting at. Often, their impoverished situation is used against them to get talented players for peanuts compared to what they’d have to pay a comparable talent in US HS’s or NCAA’s. They take the deal, because anything is better than nothing.

        I was going to look up the signing bonuses and early contracts of …

        Pedro Martinez (At the time, the younger and more talented brother of a current, quality major league pitcher. FWIW, Alan Benes – similar situation – was drafted 16th overall … how do their signing bonuses compare?), Vladamir Guerrero, etc. and then compare it to comparable talent in the MLB draft during those years.

        That’s why I say let all the players go into the draft (all of them are non-MLB players whether they played in PR, Japanese league or the PAC 10), and let them get drafted where they may, and the corresponding money fall where it will. If a guy doesn’t want to play for the team that drafted him, he can do what the other non-MLB players do … go back to what they were doing before and try again next year.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    Why do foreign players enjoy negotiating leverage, while Bryce Harper doesn’t?

    The best talent would be drafted in the highest spots with the biggest bonuses, and would likely make it to the majors the fastest.

    The draft exists so that the worst teams get to pick the best from the non-MLB talent. Having it so the wealthiest teams can buy the best international talent is counter. Also, MLB does not exist for the purposes of being a jackpot for impoverished teens (anywhere in the world).

    I don’t understand why playing non-MLB ball in America requires one to have limits that foreign players do not follow. That doesn’t make sense to me no matter what nationality we’re talking about.

    If the best player is in PR or DR let a team take him with a high draft pick instead of underpaying him as an international signing. That’s how small market teams have been doing it, sign the Spanish speaking kids for peanuts compared to what you’d have to pay them if they played ball in CA or TX.

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    • The Fallen Phoenix says:

      “Why do foreign players enjoy negotiating leverage, while Bryce Harper doesn’t?”

      This is more of a reason to eliminate the draft altogether, NOT to expand it further.

      “The draft exists so that the worst teams get to pick the best from the non-MLB talent.”

      No, the draft exists so that teams have negotiating leverage over amateur players, thereby driving down their cost.

      You know what would be a better (and fairer) way to level the playing field? Find a better way for MLB teams to distribute revenues. Teams like the Yankees and Mets could pay a tax based not on their payroll, but instead based on the expected marginal revenue that their market size affords them, and that money could then be redistributed to smaller-market teams like the Pirates.

      None of this artificially deflating the salaries of skilled labor just so billionaire owners can pocket more money, either by expanding the draft or by advocating for a salary cap.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    The MLBPA has as much to do with draft money limitations as anything. Like Congress voting on whether they should get a raise, the players vote that the MLB vets get the money.

    That seems to be how it goes in major sports. As for sharing the wealth … I agree, but that’s another discussion.

    I was just pointing out, on average, Latin American players would probably get more money being drafted highly, then when they are signed out of desperation and poverty. The exception would be Cubans. As soon as teams hear the word “Cuban” they come running with money, as if they are somehow still fighting the Cold War.

    I don’t have a problem with drafted prospects having contract limits. Those that make it get paid … Those that don’t … Well, a lot of em still get paid. I also prefer fewer levels of play in the minors, but that another discussion also.

    I do have a beef with non-MLB players being able to set their own parameters, relegating themselves to certain teams and for major money, when other players don’t have that option just because they played ball in the US. I don’t favor doing away with the draft, but an overhaul is likely needed.

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  13. RMock says:

    So far the sense of this discussion seems to be:

    1. American and foreign players ready to go pro should have equal opportunities.
    2. It’s not a great idea to skew the system any further toward protecting owners’ financial interests.
    3. It’s not a great idea to skew the system any further toward favoring rich teams.
    4. It IS a great idea to use the draft to open more ways for teams to get better, and to build interest in baseball.

    Would this meet all four of these goals?
    A. Have two drafts — the US draft in June, the International in Nov. In both drafts, require players to sign up to be eligible for the draft (make it their choice, gives them some leverage in deciding when is the best time to go for it). No amateur free agents can be signed except in a 12-month period after they have been eligible for a draft and gone undrafted, or they have gone through two (or three?) drafts and not signed for whatever reason.

    B. Make each draft an auction draft. Set a drafting salary cap the first year at the average team’s total spent the previous year on signing drafted players + signing international free agents (including Japanese players) + 10%. Let the cap rise each subsequent year with inflation (or in proportion to total major and minor league salaries or total major league revenues, whichever works). So each team would have the same overall drafting budget each year, and could make its own choices as to how to distribute its spending between the two drafts. Let teams go in reverse order of record in putting players up for bidding. The winning bid gets the rights to the player, with the bid being the minimum bonus the team can offer the player. Teams can use unspent drafting budget to bargain with players who demand higher bonuses, which will help keep some leverage in players’ hands, but over time I would think the bids would approach players’ signing demands anyway.

    (Man, wouldn’t it be a hoot to watch the bidding? Often the best players wouldn’t get put up right away for strategic reasons, meaning the draft would be interesting longer. The drafts WOULD be longer, so that’s another reason to split ‘em up.)

    3. Teams can trade draft salary cap — so poor teams could get some value for their unused draft salary allotment. (Comes under “maximize the ways to get better” point.)

    There it is — another brainstorm. Have at it.

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  14. tarlinian says:

    I don’t see why an international draft is such an odd concept to baseball folks. It works perfectly well in the NHL, which has many international draftees. The issue with transfer agreements is easily workable by negotiating a transfer agreement between the MLB and foreign leagues.

    Have the draft give a team the rights to a player for X number of years depending on what program he is drafted out of, and set strict restrictions on signing bonuses, while getting rid of 2 pre-arb years in the MLB.

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  15. JimyY says:

    How about this idea. Base the draft order on the % of dollars spent doing non profit, community work. You wanna see some good going on in our cities? Next time there is a Sano or Chapman you’d see some major cash flowing.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Altruism is pretty far down on baseball’s list of priorities, even if they like to run commercials pretending it isn’t.

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      • JimyY says:

        It’s just tough to try to think of what to base draft order on though. This would be a way everyone could benefit. It’s not rewarding a team for losing the most games or FA’s it’s rewarding them for doing something of true value.

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  16. Gina says:

    Really Chapman is a pretty extreme example, how many IFA’s have gotten that type of money. Inoa is probably more comparable to a prep arm and he got 5 million, which is less than what the #1 picks have gotten the last few years.

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  17. The large majority of these kids will never have long careers in the majors, so their initial signing bonus could genuinely be life-changing money. Creating an international draft would seriously undermine international prospects’ negotiation leverage.

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