Why I'm not a fan of an international draft

Why I'm not a fan of an international draft
Rafael Furcal signs petition against international draft (photo from Ben Badler via twitter)

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.






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  • John, how do you feel about the caps for signing international amateurs? It seems to me that, with the way the cap is constructed, elite international players are definitely getting cheated. If there was an international talent comparable to a 1/1 or 1/2 pick, he's not going to get the money he's worth because of the lower pools for international signees.

    IMHO, in general, the signing caps for amateurs are bad. It basically takes money from deserving amateurs and drives up the value of free agents, putting the money in the pockets of already filthy rich veteran free agents.

  • In reply to SVAZCUB:

    I don't like the caps either. I agree they're getting cheated -- but even that's better than a draft because at least you can try and pool money to together and get the player(s) you want. Now you could target a lesser player but you have no control over whether you can actually get him.

  • Well put

  • In reply to tim815:

    Thanks Tim.

  • I think this article may have nbeen a bit tardy. MLB announced today that there will be no international draft next year and "sources" are saying there won't be one with the current CBA.

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    I actually wrote it a couple of days ago but an international draft is still possible down the road. At any rate, it's still an analysis and an opinion piece. You can have an opinion on the the idea of an international draft. It's not like it was an attempt to sway MLB into not doing it. I'd like to have that kind of pull ;)

  • Late or not, very nice analysis, John.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Thanks Quedub.

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    Good analysis; I am opposed because my favorite team is one with more $ than average, and I want my team to be able to spend that $ to gain an advantage. In the end, I don't want a level playing field.

    The draft is now leveled; so, international FA pool is OK by me, but clubs CAN spend more on facilities and scouting to gain an edge. This is the only place in amateur development with no limits. Thus, big-money teams like the Cubs will be rewarded for investing in these areas.

  • In reply to Zonk:


    Oh and nicely done John

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    In reply to Zonk:

    But, to John's point, it's the teams with the lest money (Pirates, Rays, Royals) who have been among the biggest spenders in the international market. The Rays are so big one it they even went over their allotment last year and have this year's dollar value lowered. It seems to me that the huge returns to scouting in Latin America make international spending one of the few areas where everyone is close to an equal footing. The Cubs facility is nice, but if they don't identify talent it means nothing to them.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Honestly, I'd argue that -- assuming the Cubs get the revenue to spend like a big market club -- an International draft helps them, not hurts them. Because it closes off a major place for getting impact talent. That will make free agency an even more important source of impact talent. And, as a result, you'll see more contracts like Greinke's and guys like Verlander may not be so willing to sign an extension, because they can get $30 million/year from the Cubs if they go to free agency.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Interesting point. I hadn't thought of it from that angle, but that does make a lot of sense.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Your right Mike, about the $ Verlander would get. So far this year, Verlander and Grienke are showing why you DONT want to spend ridicoulus amounts of $ on pitchers past age 30. Verlanders FB velocity is down 4-5 mph this year and Grienke has been hurt yet again . All those injuries are going to eventually take a toll.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thanks. I can live with the FA pool because I think those kinds of periphery investments still hold some sway as far as enticing FAs. All things being equal, if I were a FA I'd go to teams like TX, CHI, or NY if given the chance. With the draft, however, it would reduce that advantage and eliminate it as a recruiting tool. It'd still be an advantage development wise, but the overall advantage would be further diluted.

  • Just disgusting how those in control always try to manipulate the market to maintain that control. Baseball and everywhere else too.

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    I severely dislike Jerry Reinsdorf.

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    Reinsdorff is not interested one bit in leveling the playing field. He is interested in making money. When you can not draw at your gates (WS are 5th worse this year so far according to a story on Yahoo) then you have to control spending at all levels. When everyone else was trying to build up their systems and investing heavily in the draft over the last few years the Sox have been stripping theirs bare in the money spent department. To say he is interested in those teams that need some help compete is totally against his character.

  • Great article John couldn't agree more with this.
    On a semi-related note, why has armando rivero been stuck in extended spring training for so long this year? I thought I remembered hearing he was advanced enough to be put in AA or at least Daytona immediately at the time of signing

  • In reply to nickdib123:

    Rivero hasn't pitched in a couple of years. I suspect they will move him to AA when he finally leaves Arizona.

  • Loved this article John. I appreciated the spirit of integrity that you raised and I hope that more and more people keep drawing attention to real motives behind the international draft. Just another reason this site is so good.

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    Just another reason to hate the White Sox. Jerry Reinsdorf is killing the game! I can't tell ya how many hours I've wasted on White Sox fans about this issue. Most of those fans are also of the variety that just spout out intelligent arguments like, "The Cubs suck and at least we won a World Series." Just a total waste of time but what really ticks me off is how Jerry Reinsdorf seems to have the ear of the commish on these CBA rules. How can the teams that spend so much on developing international plays stand for this nonsense?

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    A$$ CLOWN is killing the Bulls too w his cheapish ways

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    Went to see Daytona vs Brevard County tonight. I'll try to add my thoughts on your recap tomorrow.......

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    This kind of article is what makes Cubs Den one of the best baseball blogs out there! Great work.

  • In reply to Jason Pellettiere:

    Thanks Jason!

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    I don't get the greed w Reinsdorf. Hes rich as hell, his family tree is pretty much set for the rest of eternity and even though he has one foot in the grave, he still trying to save pennies. I don't get it.

    Why not go out w a bang like the Pizza man in the motor city. Most likely your going to profit anyway from putting a great team on the field or court.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Don't forget convincing the taxpayers of Illinois to tear down the park known as The Palace Of Baseball and build him a new one, lest he move to Tampa.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    There's no such thing as "too much money" to some people. And maybe all people, I have no idea how I would react. Although you look at some billionaire owners and they have no problem spending on their team.

    The White Sox had a payroll of $75 mill in 2005. They really caught lightning in a bottle. That year's particular starting staff all had career years. Bobby Jenks was a waiver claim! They got insanely lucky with Podsednik, who was another player who had a career year. Nearly everyone on that team was at their best in 2005. It wasn't as if someone was the architect at that. They spent $75 million and hoped that would be enough. And in the years since then that's how the Sox have done things. They have spent more but nearly all the money they've spent is on trying to catch lightning in a bottle, hoping that their entire roster has career years and they can repeat the success of 2005.

    Reinsdorf knows he can spend more on free agents and his farm system, but then he remembers 2005 and how he didn't really have to do any of that and they still won. He thinks he can still go out with a bang while saving a ton of money at the same time.

  • Jerry Reinsdorf is the worst, can we all agree on that?

  • Jerry Reinsdorf is a clown. How did he make his millions, in just non-competitive govt contracts or something? Competition also breeds success, I guess Reinsdork hasnt figured that out yet.

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