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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.