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The CBA’s Impact on the IFA Market

For those who have known me awhile, my writing or talking about fairness in baseball is nothing new. From player salaries, to amateur and international signings, I’ve always been a strong proponent of minimum/maximum spending limits in all aspects of baseball to promote competitive balance. This line of thinking has even carried over to fantasy baseball as commissioners frequently become frustrated with me for pointing out loopholes and asking they be fixed.

Label me a baseball socialist — or idealistic dreamer, for that matter — but the idea of the New York Yankees spending $200+ million on the top end of the spectrum, while the Miami Marlins spend a tenth of that shopping the bargain basement is decidedly frustrating for me.

The beauty of the National Football League is that while it’s an imperfect system for players, each fan know that his team will be spending, at the very least, about 90% of what the highest-spending team is paying. Success or failure is based on talent and not simply a team’s capacity to outspend the market.

Major League Baseball is simply unable to make that argument as millions of baseball fans anticipate spring training simply hoping their favorite team doesn’t finish so far from the playoffs that the season at least remains interesting through June.

At first glance, the CBA cliff notes didn’t seem as dire as initial reports made it seem. Yes, caps on amateur and international spending would drastically alter signing bonuses and limit the strategy some small market (and larger market) teams utilize of spending heavily on amateurs and developing those players internally in lieu of aggressively pursuing free agents. And while that does force a change in strategy, it didn’t seem to be completely eliminated based on the least successful organizations being awarded the most money to spend on draft picks – even if on a smaller scale.

In reading further, my initial reaction to the $2.9 million each organization would have to spend on the international market in 2012 appeared to be a grace period for teams lagging behind in Latin America or the Pacific Rim to build the scouting infrastructure to maximize the opportunity to sign players once the sliding scale for international signing bonus budgets takes effect.

Then, I read where international budgets could be traded, and… sigh.

Yes, the amount organizations can up their budgets through trade is limited, but it really does create a “have your cake and eat it too” scenario which worries me much more than changes to the amateur draft. With the ability to now trade international budgets, the motivation for each organization to build an even stronger infrastructure internationally to offset the inability too outspend opponents via the amateur draft seems to be mitigated. Should an organization deem expanding their international operations too costly to be truly effective, that money can be flipped to the highest bidder for the most part.

And in all seriousness, what’s a few hundred thousand in international budget worth anyway when a top-50 prospect is worth millions on average? To the team trading their budget, probably not that much. But to an organization like the New York Yankees, which has arguably made the deepest inroads of any organization internationally, their ability to leverage that money and maximize every plum nickel has the chance to become an enormous tactical advantage.

A half million in additional international budget could net another five to ten prospects with upside. So much upside, one contact told me how depressed he was to return to the states after a trip to Latin America scouting talent due to the abundance of quality arms there. When asked to compare what was there to what he had scouted in the United States, it was no contest.

For every Michael Ynoa who signs for millions and struggles, a $20,000 diamond is uncovered who provides many millions in excess value. Unlike the United States where most high profile amateur players receive a ton of exposure through the high school tournament circuit, the international market is still a place where great value can be gained from having the best boots on the ground assessing talent. Instead of Major League Baseball pushing for each organization to have an equally strong presence internationally to level that playing field, they instead provided an easy out which I found to be extremely disappointing.