You may have heard that an international draft is inevitable and it could happen as soon as next year. The powers that be are deciding that as we speak.
We already know what the spin is: "It's going to help small market teams!"
Small market teams like the Royals, Rays, and Pirates have wisely utilized amateur international free agency as a way of acquiring talent relatively cheaply. It's a less expensive way to get potential impact players. Spend a few million to buy a bunch of lottery tickets instead of 100's of millions on one player. It's a nice alternative.
What it ultimately does is take money from kids who have the talent to play MLB baseball and put it back into the pockets of billionaire owners.
Most importantly, it threatens to dilute the international talent pool in Major League Baseball.
I've talked about the affect such a draft (and the bonus pool money) has on the Asian market in the past. In essense, the Asian professional leagues are in competition with MLB baseball. They have their own successful leagues such as Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and Korea's Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). They do not really want their young hometown star players leaving. They want them to stay -- and sometimes they aren't easily accepted back if they do not succeed in the U.S. It's a huge risk for those players and what this means is that it takes a larger signing bonus to lure those players to compensate for that risk. With the bonus pool money limitations, that money is no longer available and will all but disappear with a draft.
It also punishes teams who have invested resources into the development of young players. Teams like the Cubs, Yankees, and Rangers not only spend bonus money on these kids, they provide them with first rate facilities and a top notch development staff to invest in their long term future. It's an investment in the future of these young prospects, not just as players, but as kids who are adapting to a new culture. It's not just about baseball.
There's a reason why teams like the Rangers and the Yankees consistently churn out top international talent. It's not just scouting, it's also the investment in development that comes afterward. I'm not sure that teams that have not invested in international players' long term development in the past will suddenly start investing in it now simply because they get the first opportunities to sign them. I hope that they will, but I'm not convinced.
We've seen what has happened since Puerto Rican players started getting included in the draft in 1990. The New York Times wrote an article that stated,
After decades of populating major league rosters with All-Stars at every position, Puerto Rico had only 20 players on Major League Baseball rosters on opening day last season. Only two made the All-Star team (in 2011). (By contrast, the 1997 All-Star Game included eight Puerto Ricans.)
The general consensus is that the draft is to blame,
"No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft."
That brings us to a second factor. The players are older and don't have as much time with an MLB development staff. Because not only did teams invest in Puerto Rican players after they signed them, but it was common to cultivate that talent before they signed them. You'd put your work in, get to know the players on a personal level, help them develop as baseball players -- and in turn you'd get rewarded when that player chose to repay your work by signing a contract with your team. Now that teams have very little control as to what players they'll be able to get in the draft, there is really no practical reason to invest in them in those all-important early years.
Once talent from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela become subject to the draft, that early instruction will also cease. These players will be left to their own resources. Frankly, many don't have many resources to begin with and now they'll also be responsible for their own development until they are signed.
Because owners like Jerry Reinsdorf, who has been a driving force behind the new CBA, do not want to make long term investments in the future of their game. We're talking about billionaire owners who are afraid to invest an extra million or two to acquire top talent -- or to invest in personnel and facilities to help develop that talent.
They're not leveling the playing field for small-market teams, especially the successful ones. This has been one of the few ways shrewd small market teams have been able to compete for talent. They are leveling the market for teams that choose not to invest in amateur talent.
In the end, it's not about aiding teams in small markets. It's about aiding owners who see in small pictures.