The Upcoming CBA: An International Draft

If you’ve been following the sports scene (and that means all the Big-4 sports, as in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB), you’ll know that the winds of war have been howling across two of them (the NFL and NBA). The NHL has recently extended their labor agreement until next year, which leaves us with MLB. And, unless there is a dramatic shift, labor peace should continue within baseball, albeit with one or two rumblings.

Still, it’s not as if the status quo will be coming along in December when the current CBA expires, so don’t go looking for an extension. In fact, there may be some of the more dramatic changes to the next Basic Agreement in MLB than we’ve seen in over a decade. Since there’s much to chew on, better to roll the topics out one-by-one in smaller doses. Knowing the FanGraphs fan base, better to have discussion center on one topic as opposed to some multi-threaded conversation.

So, for the first installment on the upcoming CBA and the battles within it, let’s go with something that’s been hanging around for a bit… A world-wide Draft.

The question often gets asked if management and the players will go for the concept of an international draft?  The best answer: it’s not exactly a new concept, so why not? Few remember that as part of the 2003-2006 CBA (see the CBA here), the sides (MLB and the MLBPA) agreed that an international draft would not be a sticking point, but didn’t get the particulars of it ironed out by the deadline. Indeed, Rob Manfred, the league’s point man for all labor related matters wrote the following letter to then MLBPA Exec. Director Donald Fehr:

During the negotiations for a new Basic Agreement, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball (“Office of the Commissioner”) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (“Players Association”) agreed that the First-Year Player Draft should be expanded to cover all players who are first entering Major League or Minor League baseball, regardless of a player’s residence. In the course of those discussions, however, it became apparent that there was insufficient time for the type of deliberation and negotiation necessary to reach agreement on the many issues posed by such a significant change in the First-Year Player Draft.

The parties agreed, therefore, that the matters which were left unresolved in bargaining would, within the time frame established below, be addressed by a committee of representatives of the Players Association and the Office of the Commissioner in an attempt to forge a comprehensive agreement on a world-wide draft. The parties further agreed that if, despite their good faith efforts, the committee process did not result in such a comprehensive world-wide draft agreement, the existing draft rules and procedures, including those Major League Rules changes made pursuant to the new Basic Agreement, would remain in effect for the balance of the new Basic Agreement, unless later modified by the agreement of the parties.

More specifically, we have agreed that:

1. No later than October 15, 2002, a committee of representatives from the Players Association and the Office of the Commissioner (“World-Wide Draft Subcommittee”) will begin discussions related to the implementation of a world-wide draft.

2. The World-Wide Draft Subcommittee shall be composed of an equal number of representatives of the Players Association and the Office of the Commissioner, and shall include at least one Associate General Counsel of the Players Association and at least one senior representative of the Labor Relations Department of the Office of the Commissioner.

3. In its deliberations, the World-Wide Draft Subcommittee shall consider all issues relating to the acquisition of players through a world-wide draft system, including but not limited to:

(a) the number of rounds of the world-wide draft, which number shall be at least 20 and not more than 38;

(b) the appropriate eligibility age for players residing in countries that do not play organized high school baseball;

(c) a structure to ensure or provide for the development of players who reside in countries that do not play organized high school baseball prior to their eligibility for the draft, including but not limited to the issue of maintaining and/or developing baseball academies;

(d) the benefits to be provided to some or all players signed following selection in a world-wide draft;

(e) the procedures governing whether and, if so, how players opt in and out of the world-wide draft;

(f) the date on which the world-wide draft shall be held each year;

(g) the disproportionate allocation of selection rights designed to improve competitive balance;

(h) the assignability of selection rights, negotiation rights and/or the contracts of First-Year Players, including any restrictions on such assignment rights;

(i) the compensation that is awarded when a Club does not sign a player selected in the First-Year Player Draft;

(j) the compensation that is awarded pursuant to Article XX(B)(4) of the Basic Agreement;

(k) a fixed signing deadline for selected players, particularly as such a deadline relates to the “draft and follow” concept;

(l) special draft rules regarding players from countries with which United States residents and institutions are prohibited or restricted from doing business;

(m) the operation of player protocols between the Office of the Commissioner and other professional baseball leagues;

(n) whether the world-wide draft should be implemented commencing with the June 2003 or the June 2004 First-Year Player Draft; and

(o) any other matters that the parties agree are appropriately discussed in the World-Wide Draft Subcommittee process.

This will also confirm that certain matters will not be revisited by the World-Wide Draft Subcommittee. Specifically, the parties agreed that there should be a world-wide draft, leaving only the many issues relating to the implementation and operation of such a draft to the Subcommittee. Further, the parties agreed that the draft would be not less than 20 and not more than 38 rounds. The letter then ended with Manfred asking  Fehr to sign a copy of the letter indicating that he was in agreement with the terms.

The problem was that it withered on the vine. The meetings to get the deal done never transpired as the technicality of a world-wide draft proved vexing. Those were the parameters then, and surely the jumping off point for matters in the collective bargaining sessions now – the number of rounds, age of players, compensation rights, etc.

As the current CBA was reached, the international draft was not inserted into the mix. Why? For likely the same reason that it’s going to be tough to get one in for the new CBA when it is reached. The biggest issue isn’t that MLB or the MLBPA is opposed to the concept of drafting players from outside the US amateur draft, it’s that it’s a logistical nightmare.

The issue surrounds the ability to rank players from around the world in the same fashion that it is done Stateside. In the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico the process is straight forward with players falling into High School and College ranks. That model doesn’t work in places like the Dominican and other countries.

“So many of the international players are unknown to many different clubs,” said Tom Allison, the D-backs scouting director to MLB.com. “That’s where the concerns are, that there is a competitive advantage from other clubs being able to have the resources to scout them and then bring them in.”

In interviews that I have conducted with both Rob Manfred and Michael Weiner, they have said that are not opposed to a world-wide draft, it comes back to the ability to implement it from a logistics standpoint. So, unlike other issues, the issue of an international draft is something that isn’t being blocked by one side or of the other as a new CBA approaches. The issue is going to center on the technicalities of making it happen.

In the end, much as it was in 2002, it will be where a world-wide draft sits in the pecking order of items that management and union want addressed. It’s possible that as it was then, an international draft may still prove too difficult to try and tackle for the upcoming CBA. At least this is one issue that doesn’t have MLB or the MLBPA digging their heels in over. If you’re looking at an item in the list of issues in the upcoming CBA that has a history of at least the sides agreeing to try and make happen, the world-wide draft is it.




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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for freelance and looks forward to your comments.


18 Responses to “The Upcoming CBA: An International Draft”

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  1. william says:

    One thing I would note is foreign born players now make up almost 30% of the MLBPA, so there may be a different feeling on the international draft.

    Regardless, I think starting an international draft would be as a bad a move as baseball could make in the current CBA. Latin America is currently a hotbed for great talent, so I don’t see the point in doing anything to upset that. The DR baseball community is against a draft (http://t.co/S6yJBOB) and with good reason. They know what happened in PR when it was included in the Rule IV. It would be a shame if baseball effectively drained its talent pool in an attempt to gain greater leverage against international prospects, many who come from impoverished situations.

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    • delv says:

      That article makes an excellent point.
      Ultimately, it’s not clear why the players would agree to this at all. What kind of money does an average international FA make compared to the average draftee?

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      • PiratesHurdles says:

        The average bonus handed out in the Dominican Republic over the last 5 years ranged from 50-100k for 300-500 players each year. That’s certainly less than the average of the top 10-15 rounds of the June draft. Overall, the LA kids would get more money if they were draft eligible.

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      • Colin says:

        For the players, there doesn’t appear to be any direct harm from instituting an International Draft. It might actually be in their benefit in the end, as competing bids for players who are essentially free agents (like Aroldis Chapman) drive up their price in some cases much higher than what a drafted player would command. These dollars spend on international free agents are not going to the players currently in MLB. It’s even worse when you consider the Japanese posting system, where transfer fees don’t go to players at all. At best the players are removing some money from the international pool in hopes of redistributing it to themselves. At worst they are just redistributing some of the wealth within the international player pool by reducing big bonuses for some signees.

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      • philosofool says:

        Suppressing signing costs means more money for Free Agents.

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      • william says:

        @Pirates The average bonus is relevant because major league teams sign so many international players just to fill out the minor league ranks (that’s why the percentage of foreign born minor leaguers is even greater). Also, did you run the numbers on the average bonus for the first 15 rounds? I’d be curious to see an actual comparison.

        The risk to the Latin American players is twofold:

        (1) There will be less incentive for every club to set up academies, which provide housing, equipment, nutrition, etc. The investment teams make in these academies goes along way toward developing international players. Without them, there very well could be fewer players who develop into draftable players.

        (2) A high school player has the leverage of college, but what leverage will a 17-18 year old Dominican have? Return to a life of poverty? The reason international kids have leverage know is because teams can bid against each other. If instead they become beholden to the reserve clause, they’ll essentialyl be at the teams’ mercy.

        It is in the best interest of baseball to have the world’s best athletes playing the game. An international draft will do to Latin America and elsewhere what being included in th Rule IV draft did Puerto Rico: lessen investment and involvement. That’s a bad thing, no matter how much money the owners can save.

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  2. Spiggy says:

    I don’t buy the argument that an international draft is problematic because of the claim that some teams don’t have the resources to properly scout all areas. This claim is true, but it’s not like it’s any more of an even playing field right now. I honestly don’t know how I feel about an international draft, but this would be a silly reason to not implement one.

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  3. PiratesHurdles says:

    If the NHL can routinely pull this off with much smaller revenue streams, there is no reason that MLB cannot.

    That said, the current system provides a relatively cheap method for low revenue teams to make up for some of the game’s inequities. Over-slot drafting and Latin America present the opportunity for a team like Pittsburgh to acquire a greater share of the overall talent available for $10-15 million dollars (far less than would be required in free agency). If these two avenues disappear in the form of a world-wide draft with hard slotting then it would eliminate this opportunity. At the same time, if you go with a structured draft then teams like NYY actually only get the 30th best player, not the 10th best based on signability. Presumably you also would fix the ludicrous draft pick comp system, that rewards the large market teams far more than the small market as intended. Its a tough tradeoff that is hard to predict an outcome.

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  4. wickethewok says:

    I don’t think international talent markets are ready for a draft. Many of the foreign player pools are in poorer areas (Central America, DR) where we need incentivized teams to continue to put money into training facilities and infrastructure. Other areas with more advanced economies (like Australia, Germany, China) still need teams there putting money into boosting local baseball interest. Removing the ability of teams to reap the benefits (positive relationships, access to early contract negotiations) of training and teaching players overseas, provides a large enough disincentive that they will drastically reduce their international non-salary budges. Keith Law has pointed out a decline in Puerto Rico’s baseball talent output since it was included in the draft as an example of this.

    Would this international draft cover Asian professional leagues as well? If it does, I can’t see many Japanese players continuing to make the leap to MLB when they can’t even decide who they’re negotiating with. I’d imagine a similar viewpoint from the NPB clubs themselves.

    I know we as fans like drafts, but the international talent pool isn’t ready for it yet.

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  5. KS says:

    I would think that the realistic expectation of being drafted by a major league team would be the necessary incentive for more organized leagues to arise in some of these places. There will be people (whether the players’ best interests are at heart or not) who will want to increase the chances that their players or players they have an interest in get drafted.

    In other words, the draft IS the incentive.

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  6. 28 this year says:

    Another thing to consider is Japan. How is that country affected by a worldwide draft? The MLB can’t draft Japanese amateurs without severely hurting relations with NPB and then the posting process becomes a new, more expensive FA system for new prospects.

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    • bcp33bosox says:

      I was thinking the same thing in regards to how this could be implemented with Japan who does not want MLB signing prospects and depleting the talent pool of NPB without a team at least getting a posting fee as compensation.

      After Junichi Tazawa was signed by the Red Sox, NPB quickly made a new rule suspending any returning prospects (amateur players) from playing in the NPB for 2-3 years (2 for high school and 3 for corporate/college players).

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  7. GiantHusker says:

    I’m with Spiggy. I don’t much care, but why not?

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  8. Proudhon says:

    Are there any legal obstacles to a draft in countries outside the US? Here, MLB has an antitrust exemption – in other countries, would depriving draftees of the right to negotiate with their prospective employers be legally problematic (especially with a hard slotting system)?

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  9. philosofool says:

    “So many of the international players are unknown to many different clubs,” said Tom Allison, the D-backs scouting director to MLB.com. “That’s where the concerns are, that there is a competitive advantage from other clubs being able to have the resources to scout them and then bring them in.”

    This can’t be a real problem as long as clubs are willing to agree that players must declare for the draft. If players have to submit their names, then clubs can go take a look. Presumably, any undrafted player would then be a free agent.

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  10. Steve says:

    Eventually, there should be a world-wide draft. Right now, it would be a huge mistake. The systems are not in place to allow a world-wide draft that would be beneficial to MLB, the MLBPA and the international players. Until such systems are in place however, the CBA could be tweeked to create an environment where an international draft would be beneficial to all parties. What if, for example, the money that teams dedicate to running their academies was pooled into an organization run by MLB and locals to create a playing environment similar to what high school or college teams provide here and the players were drafted from there? Maybe it sounds kind of Utopian, but to finda a system in which all parties benefit, they have to look at solutions in that direction.

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  11. Gary M. Mugford says:

    The only way a world-wide draft is possible is if MLB takes charge of setting up the academy or academies in each country. For some countries, the academy might just be an office with a single MLB scout/trainer, due to the small baseball-playing population. In other countries, it will be multiple well-staffed academies (The D.R., for example). In each academy, baseball, English and life skills get taught. The kids can join, after tryout, as young as is reasonable for that part of the world. I’m not going to dictate culture from my position on my pedestal. All kids get drafted in either the regular draft or in a special world-wide draft with the first year of eligibility being 17. NOBODY gets drafted without being made available through the academy process first. After three years of academy eligibility without being drafted, then the player is a total free agent. By the way, I include Cubans and Japanese in this process. Any fleeing Cubans have to go to some country’s academy and make themselves available for drafting. There’s absolutely no reason why the Japanese shouldn’t be drafted either. They could still demand a posting fee. Whether the drafting team decides to pay it, or negotiate is up to the two parties. (My version of the MLB academy in Japan would be of the office sort).

    Combined with the inevitable rookie scale contracts, this would drive down the cost of unproven players immensely and would transfer some of that winfall to players who HAVE proven themselves. I’d like that to mean more money for the rank-and-file. But honestly, we know the largesse would likely end up in the hands of a few free agents. Afterall, the Cards do have to find some way to pay Pujols the $300M.

    But what the world-wide draft WOULD do is to cut out one of the big advantages the big money clubs have. They sign a LOT of Latin American free agents, including some of the best. The sheer quantity ensures they get good quality players thereby allowing them to continue to prosper despite the lack of high draft picks in the regular draft.

    Scouting would STILL be important. Maybe more important. But there would be a lot less of some unsavoury practices dealing with ‘agents’ and birddogs in parts of the world where life and talent seems to be a little cheaper than it ought to be.

    The World-Wide Draft WILL cost money to get started. But a better trained, more ready group of draftable players at set costs would be a boon to pro baseball in very short order.

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  12. Davor says:

    In NHL best foreign prospects come from Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia. All those countries have full league structure and develop players well, also making it easier to scout players. And still some very good players aren’t drafted.
    Latin America doesn’t have anything close to that. Also, baseball development is much harder than hockey development. Baseball isn’t ready for full international draft.

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