How the new CBA International rules will impact the Cubs

How the new CBA International rules will impact the Cubs
Jae-Hoon Ha

Bud Selig recently called an international draft "inevitable".  This has big ramifications for all of baseball and will certainly affect how the Cubs plan to build. The Cubs have invested a lot internationally.  Led by Steve Wilson's tremendous efforts, they already have a strong presence in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.  Closer to home, Oneri Fleita and Jose Serra have begun to establish themselves as big players in Latin America.

A draft could lessen the impact of this investment.  There will certainly be some negative consequences -- some of which you may not expect and probably weren't considered by Selig when this idea was proposed.

The obvious negative is that the Cubs or any other team won't always be able to pursue all the players they have outworked other teams to scout.  There will be a draft order and they'll have to take whomever is available in that slot.  Last year, for example, the Cubs zeroed in on both Marck Malave and Enrique Acosta.  When a draft is installed, they won't be able to get two players of that caliber.  The same goes for the prior year when the Cubs signed Carlos Penalver and Jeimer Candelario.  In fact, the Cubs signed Penalver for a bit more money, so it's possible that if they had to choose one, they would have taken him even though Candelario has turned out to be the better player so far.  There's a lot less margin for error now.

On the bright side, the international draft isn't here yet and the Cubs have been very good at digging up players at modest bonuses in Latin America, the biggest example being Starlin Castro for a mere $45,000.  Carlos Marmol, as well as many of the Cubs current prospects from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, were signed for similar amounts.

That ability to find diamonds in the rough should help the Cubs in the next 2 years because, according to Jim Callis of BA,

For the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 signing periods only, a Club’s six highest signing bonuses that are equal to or less than $50,000 will not count toward its Signing Bonus Pool. In addition, bonuses provided to players of $7,500 or less will not count toward a Club’s Signing Bonus Pool.

For signing periods after the 2013-2014 signing period, bonuses provided to players of $10,000 or less will not count toward a Club’s Signing Bonus Pool.

Under the current agreement, it's possible that the Cubs, whose scouting efforts should continue to improve with the addition of the new front office, could sign up to 12 lesser known amateur players over the next two years without having it count toward their overall pool.  The hope is that you can find another Castro or Marmol in that group. That's why scouting is so important and it's the reason you should see the Cubs intensify their efforts to find  similar sleeper prospects.

A draft would make this tougher.  The Cubs could still out-scout the other teams and find players that other teams missed on, but now they'd have to hope that all or most slip into the later rounds.   They'll lose out on some of their targets, but with their strong scouting presence and track record, they should be able to land at least a few of their under-the-radar guys.

Unfortunately, the same won't hold true in the Asian countries.  There is a different cultural dynamic.  The NPB and the KBO are interested in the success of their own leagues.  They don't consider themselves a pipeline for the MLB.  Though amateur players can and often do sign with MLB teams, they can be blacklisted for doing so.  In the past, it was worth the risk if they would receive a large signing bonus.  Even sleepers like OF prospect Jae-Hoon Ha are relatively costly.  Although Ha may not currently be at the same level, he was an under-the-radar find for the Cubs much like Castro was at the time.  The difference is Ha's bonus was 5 times higher.  It's extremely unlikely he would have taken the same risk for 50K or less.

That's bad enough, but an international draft would make it even more difficult in the Pacific Rim because players would have to declare their intention publicly.  That's not exactly something that would be looked upon favorably in their home countries and puts players at risk.  What if they don't get drafted?  Or what if they do get drafted, but it's not until the 3rd, 4th round where the signing bonuses will be much lower?  Then what happens if that player is unable to stay in the organization?  Where does he go at that point?  It's a risk many players may not want to take.

It's these kind of implications that Selig didn't consider.  It's not just certain teams that will feel the impact, but it's the players who will also lose opportunities. Some of the players are very poor and it's going to mean a lot less money.  They won't be getting what they would be worth in the open market.  For others, the smaller bonuses may not compensate them enough for the risk they'd have to take. Ultimately, it's money that will go back into the pockets of owners. These aren't necessarily just owners in smaller markets.  More accurately, they're the teams that have chosen not to make the financial commitment toward amateur scouting that other teams are willing to make.  The rationale has been that it gives smaller markets a chance to compete, but the contradiction here is that many of those teams that have recently invested  heavily in amateur scouting -- the Pirates, Royals, Rays, and Padres, for example-- are in small markets.

Both players and teams will feel the impact of the new CBA and the international draft that seems certain to follow.  In most cases, that impact will not be a positive one.  There will be less players available and less margin for error. But efforts to improve scouting and establish a presence should still help the Cubs keep an advantage over the teams still looking to skimp on scouting and development.  Unfortunately, that advantage won't be as big as it would have been under the old CBA.

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  • Great post John.
    Selig is a tool for some of the owners and doesn't appear to be curious enough to consider the effects of his recent actions. I wish his people would finish his statue so he can retire with a ceremony befitting his own self-image.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks.

    It's probably not to hard to figure who the puppet master was on this new CBA. Overall, I don't Selig has been terrible, he's addressed some issues that needed to be addressed -- but to me this wasn't one of them at least not to this extent.

  • On the Asia front, here in Japan it is unlikely that an international draft would affect things much. Although this market still has the most talent in Asia, the local draft gets the top Japanese prospects playing in the NPB and in front of 40,000 fans at age 19. Along with the blacklist issue John mentions, that seems to prevent Japanese high schoolers from signing with an MLB team (I think only 1 or 2 ever have). Scouting is of course still important, for when a player like Matsuzaka and Darvish is posted, or when the players achieve free agency after I think 9 years of service. The Cubs seem to be doing a good job of prying young Koreans away from home. Korea and Taiwan, with improving talent levels and smaller home markets to lure them to stay, are a good focus and probably the market opportunities/inefficiencies to exploit in Asia. Until an international draft starts anyway.

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    I do think Korea and Taiwan are the Pacific countries who will be affected the most by this new CBA. Many of the Japanese players who come to play in the MLB are already in the NPB and over the age of 23. The presumption on my end is that they will continue to be treated like normal FAs.

  • Let's hope the Cubs can sign some more international prospects
    before this year's July deadline. Signing Soler is not looking good

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    There are no real high quality FAs left after Soler. There are a couple of guys who project as reserves or bullpen arms at best. There are a lot of teams interested in Soler, but that was to be expected.

  • I know this is off the subject, but I always thought that clubs with a kangaroo court ended up doing a lot of self-policing, as far as hustle and keeping one's head in the game. Do you know when the last time the Cubs had a kangaroo court?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I seem to remember them having one while Kerry Wood was still around. Didn't they have one a few years ago when they were winning? Seems like something a team would do when they're feeling good about themselves.

  • Is that the same Steve Wilson that had that epic at-bat with Matt Williams in the '89 playoffs where Williams fouled off like 13 pitches before Williams crushed one over the left field wall and just destroyed the Cubs spirit in that series?

  • In reply to felzz:

    That was him. He had a pretty good year in '89 overall, just got beat by a good hitter. Based on what he's done out in the Pacific Rim, you have to consider him by far the biggest pickup in the deal that sent Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, and Drew Hall in exchange for Mitch Williams, Curtis Wilkerson, and Wilson.

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    I'm not sure that the NBP and the KBO will always be competitor leagues to MLB. Selig didn't mention it in this particular interview, but he has spoken in the past of forming alliances internationally with other baseball leagues, and that he could eventually see the World Series truly being a world series.

    Despite the fact that baseball is somewhat stagnant amongst our youth here at home, it's popularity continues to grow overseas in places like China, India and Russia, and it will continue to remain popular in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and of course Latin America.

    Selig, right or wrong, has been successful at implementing his visions for baseball, and if he is setting a course for MLB to become truly international through alliances with other leagues, then how far off are we from the possibility of seeing the Tokyo Giants and the Chicago Cubs square off in a World Series. Think about it. It could happen in our lifetime. We might be grandparents by then, but it could happen.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think it'd be fun to have that kind of series at some point down the road. Who knows?

    I am concerned how it will affect players coming over from the Pacific Rim. As Tokyo Craig mentioned, perhaps it's not as big an issue with the NPB since many of those players don't sign early with the MLB, but I do think it can affect how many players we can get overall in the Pacific Rim.

  • I think you're ignoring the most likely cause of a deal like this which is the players union. Players already in the league that want to protect the vast amounts of money they make out of free agency dont want to compete with international prospects. I don't know who pushed this agreement but I think this part was certainly a concession to the union on some level. I think if selig were trying to even the playing field for small market teams this didn't do much but if he wants American players happy then he got exactly what he wanted.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    I think it was the compromise. The union let it happen because they have more money to gain from leaving the current MLB free agency in tact. That's where MLB players really earn their money and they even helped the more established foreign players (those over 23) by keeping them as true int'l FAs for the foreseeable future.

    It's the amateurs who got the short end of the deal here. The union may have settled to protect their bigger interest, but there's little doubt that the driving force behind this was owners like Jerry Reinsdorf.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    The MLBPA only represents major league players. Players don't actually become members until they make the show. So the MLBPA doesn't care at all about amateurs, and it cares little about minor leaguers. Amateurs and minor leaguers are out to take their members jobs away.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    True. Even if it's indirectly, it would seem in their best interests on both sides to get the best players possible into the league but in reality amateurs really only have agents going to bat for them. I don't think it's a coincidence that Reinsdorf and Boras have had a running feud since the Sox were unable to sign some Boras clients in the draft in years past. Reinsdorf and other teams have been avoiding Boras clients for some time now. Nothing will make them happier now to take these players and know that their bargaining power has just been stripped away. It's either sign for X amount or risk being drafted lower next time and losing money.

  • How does these changes affect the new campus being built in the DR? I'm probably wrong, but I had it in my head that the academy was for both signed players and for younger players before they would/could be signed.

  • In reply to Timbo:

    That camp can be used for a lot and it's still a great investment. You're not wrong on that assumption. Just wrote an article on how Castro worked out there this offseason with Mariano Duncan.

    It's an asset before and after they sign players. Must be nice for a player from the Dominican (or a Cuban residing in the DR?) to be able to go home in the offseason and still have a first rate facility where they can workout or hone their skills.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks John. I guess it will be more of a benefit. I worry that the Cubs will lose players that they help develop if/when an international draft happens. It will be one of the risks, but it probably is a minor one.

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