It speaks to the labor stability of baseball that its collective bargaining agreement expires in December, and yet we don’t hear all that much about it. When CBA talks do arise, it’s usually in the form of wish lists that may be another CBA period away from actualization.
The international draft used to be one of these far-away ideas due to the challenges of implementing one that’s comprehensive enough, but Buster Olney says Major League Baseball is pushing hard for one to take effect as soon as 2018.
Under the terms of MLB's initial concept, the new international draft system would start in March of 2018, with a 10-round draft held over two days. As the new structure evolved, with terms grandfathered into the process, the minimum age for draft-eligible players would be 18 years old by 2021.
As part of baseball's proposal, MLB would operate facilities in the Dominican Republic, where international draft prospects would be invited to live to develop their skills and education before becoming eligible. This would also give MLB much greater control over a process which has often been viewed by baseball executives as a wild, wild West of player procurement.
Over the years at Baseball America, friend of the podcast Ben Badler has outlined the hurdles with an international draft. The biggest problem with any system is identifying which countries are covered. The Dominican Republic, Venezuela and smaller South American and Caribbean countries can easily produce players through a system, but countries like Cuba, Mexico, Japan and South Korea have their own big-business professional leagues to fill, and if Australia and European countries are deemed too small or faraway to include, will the best Dominicans and Venezuelans end up establishing residency there?
Moreover, with Puerto Rico’s diminishing big-league presence serving as an example, roping baseball-factory countries into the draft could suppress enthusiasm for the whole venture. From an ESPN article in 2012:
"If they implement an international draft it will be the worst thing to happen to baseball in places like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. You'll find the agents and buscones will find a way to bring kids over to the U.S. when they're 15 or 16. Why wouldn't you? The pie for signing players is higher here in the draft. The best players will make their way here and baseball in our countries will, in turn, suffer and become less talented."
That said, the current system with the international pool money isn’t really the answer. The Dodgers showed the restrictions for big-market teams were relatively toothless when they exceeded their bonus pool 20 times over in 2015, so the penalties didn’t curb the whole "arms race" feel. An international draft with assigned slots would theoretically reduce the number of signability problems, which would allows small-market teams to hold their own.
And that’s where the White Sox come in. They’re not a small-market team, but they operate like one when it comes to amateur talent. They spent less than any other team in the draft in the years before the CBA codified the slot-value system, and there’s reason to believe they would benefit the same way from an international draft, because they’ve been just as unwilling to color outside the lines.
Yes, their international presence has improved thanks to Marco Paddy — it had nowhere to go but up after the Dave Wilder scandal — and they are spending their pool money. But in order to get access to the top talent, you have to open the wallet even bigger. And if you’re not willing to get in a race with the Dodgers, you have to wait until they’ve overindulged and are prohibited from making big-ticket signings.
And that’s doable, as this summer showed. With the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs and Red Sox and other big spenders on the sideline during this signing period after blowing out their international budgets, smaller spenders like the Braves, Padres and Nationals stepped up to eat. The White Sox could have joined them, but they were never even rumored to go into the penalty zone. Marco Paddy put a positive spin on it in an interview with Future Sox:
I don’t want to say quantity only; I would say quantity of quality players. There are some players that are more advanced than others and you can put all your eggs in that basket but at the end of the day, scouting is no perfect science. Whether it’s in the draft or internationally, you really don’t want to put all your efforts into one player unless you have the ability to blow a budget and spend 25 million dollars.
We don’t think that’s the best way to go. There are very few players in that upper tier but there are quite a few players in that second tier who can be developed into what you’re looking for. I mean, when you’re talking about 15 and 16 year old kids, it’s so hard to determine exactly how their career is going to evolve. I think it makes perfect sense for us to operate the way we do. You can spend a million dollars on a horse but if he doesn’t win that race you only have the one horse.
This year's international class represents this theory as well as anything ...
- Josue Guerrero, $1.1 million (No. 33 on BA's list)
- Luis Mieses, $428,000 (No. 36)
- Anderson Comas, $450,000 (No. 37)
... and there's a chance it could be validated, because we’re still years away from understanding which teams made the most out of this pool system. But since the White Sox international pipeline remains under construction, I wouldn’t blame anybody for giving the other strategy the benefit of the doubt, since it’s being deployed by teams with a history of success in the Latin American market.
Paddy didn’t answer the question about changes in the CBA, but I can imagine the White Sox would welcome the development with the same excitement that they greeted the domestic draft pool. Then-director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann said his crew with the White Sox would be getting a chance to compete scout-to-scout, rather than being handcuffed by a deficit in resources. Unless Paddy is concerned about the ramifications on the market outlined by Badler and others, I’m guessing he would anticipate an international draft with a similar amount of enthusiasm.