Thanks to Sean Morash for sharing this article with its in depth international view and flare.
Coming direclty from the front line of MLB Baseball coverage, Sean is co-owner of the highly acclaimed Baseball Blog: Off the Bench Baseball… with a, as far as i know, daily coverage of All Things Baseball (in the US this means professional Baseball).
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How an International MLB Draft Would Be Good for (German) Baseball
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association are set to barter this offseason on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The CBA is the basis for the rules governing baseball. Everything from steroid testing, to pensions, to free agency and amateur draft bonuses are included in the legal document. The current CBA has been governing baseball since 2012 and is set to expire in December. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred recently stated that he thinks the negotiations between the two parties should wrap up by the end of the postseason, though cautioned that some issues are still to be resolved. This is great news for the sport in that an agreed-upon new CBA ensures that baseball will be played next spring. All indications are that there won’t be a strike and games will be played on schedule.
One thing that was supposedly under discussion for this round of negotiations was the establishment of an International MLB Draft for amateur players. Currently, the rules governing MLB clubs’ rights to sign international players is a complete mess. There are super convoluted rules on when you can sign players that are at least 16 years old. There are rules on how a club can negotiate with older players. And these rules have done little to ensure fair compensation between international players and US kids or even among international players. A disproportionate amount of money and publicity goes to the top talents.
The current system is wrought with dysfunction as 16 year olds throughout the impoverished Caribbean are subject to handlers and agents that take portions of their bonuses in sleazy ways. The Caribbean system needs to be cleaned up so that talented 16 year olds don’t continue to be the ant beneath the uncaring stomp of a morally dubious system.
An International Draft has the promise to clean up and simplify the rules on amateur free agents in the Caribbean and throughout Latin America. But, just as with any significant new mechanism, there will be unanticipated consequences. Luckily, you have stumbled across a post that is anticipating a ripple from that International Draft in the form of increased publicity of baseball throughout the world.
The publicity of an International Draft would be welcome in markets where baseball is just taking off. I don’t consider myself an MLB draft junkie, but I spent at least an hour this year reading up on the Braves 15th round selection, Zach Becherer. By being selected in the MLB draft, players and their stories are shared in corners of the internet. Quickly, the publicity and motivation that drive players towards success would become more tangible.
I spent 6 months of 2013 in Germany coaching, playing, and generally being an ambassador for the game. I learned the name Max Kepler when I was over there. He became something of a local legend when he was signed out of Germany at age 16 for $800,000. He finally broke through to the Big Leagues this year and has a promising future ahead of him. Unfairly, he has the weight of a country’s baseball future squarely on his shoulders. But it doesn’t need to be like that.
An International Draft would enable many more Max Keplers. MLB clubs are continuously signing players out of Europe, but few outside of the player’s immediate baseball family have any idea about the implications of these small moves. The International Draft would provide a stage for international baseball in all markets; not just in Latin America.
Baseball already has an example of how to incorporate European talent in an American sports league. NBA teams regularly draft international talent and the talent often comes from all over. The NBA’s draft and stash model wouldn’t work in baseball because the sport does not have the same quality of foreign development infrastructure as basketball. However, the effect of the publicity associated with drafting international players cannot be understated. The NBA Draft itself functions as an ambassador for the game in international markets. An International MLB Draft would provide the same positive effect in baseball’s less popular markets.
There are a host of issues to be resolved in an International Draft, including:
- How to negotiate with the Japanese and Korean leagues that currently do not allow their players to be signed away
- Agreeing upon a consistent minimum age across the international and US amateur drafts,
- Agreement of what to do with players that blossom in their late 20s, whether they be in US Independent Leagues or in International competition
- Figuring out the mechanics, logistics, and finances of how a draft would work
In my opinion, those are small fish to fry when considering the dramatic positive effect that an International Draft could have for baseball in new markets and in existing, morally dubious markets. In 2011 before the current CBA was negotiated, Max Frankel wrote a post that was titled It’s Time for an International Draft. That was 2011. It’s 2016 now and it’s beyond time for an International Draft.