June 1 was the deadline set by the new CBA for rules and regulations to be hashed out for the implementation of an international draft for the 2013 season. Bud Selig is confident that it will come to pass, calling it "inevitable," but nothing this year. The CBA outlined 12 upfront stipulations for draft rules if it goes global, but many hurdles stand between the CBA and an international draft.
The Committee will be charged with advising the MLBPA and the Office of the Commissioner on the following matters:
1. If there is an international draft, whether international players should be part of a single worldwide draft (including players currently covered by the Rule 4 Draft) or a separate draft (or drafts).
2. The appropriate age at which international amateur players should be signed to professional contracts.
3. If there are to be multiple drafts, whether players from Puerto Rico should remain in the Rule 4 Draft or instead be part of an international draft.
4. The development of appropriate country-by-country plans for playing and development opportunities for players prior to draft eligibility, including expansion of the El Torneo Supremo.
5. The development of appropriate plans to provide undrafted or unsigned players (including players age 18 to 21) from Latin America with an opportunity to continue their development, including the creation of a new league or leagues, or the addition of centrally-operated Clubs in the Dominican Summer League (“DSL”).
6. Whether and how regulations should be put in place regarding representation of international amateur players (e.g., “independent trainers” and agents).
7. Improving the education and acculturation programs of Clubs at their international academies.
8. What safeguards should be established in relation to any signing bonus payments made to international amateur players.
9. The laws of the countries from which international players are signed and how those laws should affect the actions of the parties.
10. What actions are necessary in order to achieve the negotiation of a revised agreement between MLB and the Mexican League that allows players greater choice of where to play and promotes a fair and open system of player movement.
11. What actions are necessary in order to achieve the negotiation of revisions to the protocol agreements with the Korean Professional Baseball League, the Japanese Professional Baseball League, and the Taiwan R.O.C. League to accommodate a draft.
12. How Cuban players should be treated under an amateur talent system in light of the legal and political factors that affect their signability.
There are many potential manifestations of an international draft(s).
First up, the possibility of multiple drafts using the formula created for the Rule 4 draft ("the amateur draft"). The details of these drafts haven't been released, so we can only guess as to what they'd look like.
A draft for each country can almost certainly be ruled out. GMs would be preparing and drafting all year long with an arrangement like that. More likely is a region-specific draft which could be broken down into 4 separate drafts. Asian, European and South American players could be pooled into regional amateur drafts in addition to the current Rule 4. Assembling the necessary personal to conduct these drafts would be a painstaking challenge of its own.
The alternative to multiple drafts is one, giant Bartolo Colon-sized draft. The immense amount of planning and rule-making necessary in this scenario makes it seem implausible.
On the other hand, a worldwide draft would be a dream come true for MLB marketers. The success and intense following of the NFL draft makes this an easy sell to sports fans. International signings typically happen over a prolonged period (starting July 2nd each year), but if these signings were funneled into one spectacle, some of the same excitement the NFL enjoys may parlay into a lucrative, all-encompassing planet earth draft for baseball.
The fear here is the perpetuity of draft slotting. A draft that already accommodates up to 40 rounds of Rule 3 eligible players would be expanded greatly and more financial constraints are sure to escort them. This endeavor could prove to be a trial-and-error process several years into its existence. Baseball America's International Expert Ben Badler outlines what the draft slots may look like in a piece weighing the pros and cons of bonus slots. Badler thinks the current system could translate relatively seamlessly to an international format.
For more on draft slotting and it's effect of free agency, check out our piece, Contract Killers.
Age constraints on an international draft could be a time-swallowing feat that would most certainly have holes in its infancy. Birth records for countries such as Cuba and the DR have been falsified almost habitually in recent years and in some cases they simply don't exist. Fausto Carmona (Roberto Hernandez) and Leo Nunez (Juan Carlos Oviedo) are two recent examples. Hernandez and Oviedo used aliases to obtain visas so they could play in America earlier and maintained the ruse until investigators found them out in 2011. Their real names were revealed and stiff penalties were handed down. Oviedo was suspended 8 weeks and it cost him at least a few million dollars. It's hard to say exactly how much, but it was harsh and a new precedent for Selig, who may have been far-sightedly overcompensating. Hernandez/Carmona was suspended 3 weeks after being arrested outside the US consulate when attempting to renew his visa. He didn't take part in Spring Training that year and was allowed to pitch in the minors during the suspension, rendering the punishment "meaningless," according to Baseball Nation's Kevin McCauley. The Indians requested a reworking of his contract and the result was nearly $5MM in lost salary for Hernandez. Controversies like this will probably complicate the transition to MLB/MiLB for other youngsters trying to obtain work permits legally, so MLB officials must handle this with care to avoid further media exposure.
Cuba is honed in on in the 12th point of the CBA guidelines specifically. If problems like these are discovered for other countries, MLB could have a relatively large percentage of its proposed budget devoted to birth record research.
The current age limit for teams to sign an international player is 17, or anyone born after September 1995. Regardless of age confirmation problems, many international leagues seem likely to object to such an early age. The Nippon Baseball League already takes issue with young, marketable players taking off before they can make Japanese teams marketing dollars. It's hard to imagine a feasible scenario in which Nippon officials suddenly change their outlook on exporting future Japanese superstars. Other leagues could follow suit unless they are already affiliated with MLB. The Dominican Summer League is a prime example, as its dignitaries reside stateside.
Puerto Rico is specifically mentioned as an area of concern. Because PR is a USA territory, it's youth players are currently included in the Rule 4 draft, but the CBA outlines the possibility of Puerto Rican players inclusion in the proposed international structure. This would simultaneously weaken the Rule 4 and strengthen the depth of the international draft should they manifest as separate entities. Last year's top pick Carlos Correa became the first, but almost certainly not the last, Puerto Rican player to go number one overall. PR alums in the majors already include Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Ivan Rodriguez and Pirates legend Roberto Clemente. More talent is sure to come and it could be from an international pool.
The CBA also recommends a country-by-country development plan for all players before becoming eligible for any proposed draft(s). The US has the advantage of highly organized and sanctioned high school and college sports associations. Something in the same vein will likely need to be constructed for countries with unorganized versions of youth leagues.
A good model for this new league creation would be The U-23 league in the UK. Yeah, the UK. BaseballSoftball UK frontman Liam Carroll has established a system for the development of young players in his grassroots British baseball leagues. Heavily influenced by international youth soccer squads, the U-23 league is a great way for promising young players to ease their collective way into professional baseball, learning from established veterans of the industry and gaining valuable experience in competitive environment. Most countries have some sort of youth program in place, but MLB would almost certainly audit their procedures and make changes if a league were in consideration for affiliation.
This specific guideline also insists on the expansion of the MLB-regulated El Torneo Supremo. This tournament was designed to showcase the young talent on Dominican teams. Selig doesn't want to cut and run from a project that commenced only a few years back in 2011. But where does it fit in with developmental leagues and tournaments for the rest of the international pool? Will a tournament of similar proportions and MLB funding be created for each developmental league? These aspects will surely be included in the next proposal.
Unsigned players from these drafts could create one of the more complex problems for MLB officials to anticipate. Regulations will need to be created to prevent teams from ditching raw, young players in the draft only to sign them afterward to a more lucrative contract, monetarily benefiting the player and his developers more than a draft slot bonus. Some agents and trainers have lost incentive to help players grow because the payoff has decreased due to draft slot compensation restrictions. Simply put, a fourteenth rounder isn't worth a high end agent/trainer's time because they won't see enough money to cover the expenses needed to develop a player after he lands in a farm system. Ethical concerns are certainly easier to overlook through Cartier lenses.
Representation for young internationals could become an MLB regulated oligarchy in which the top agencies fight through each other and the rule makers for exclusive rights. Baseball has to keep an eye on young players' representation to protect its commodities from vulture agents and they likely won't allow unknown, unlicensed uncles or buscones (street agents) to do the bidding for draft eligibles. Smaller agencies may not even get involved due to the ubiquity of mid level talent already present in MLB. Top agencies can afford search parties for the next Yoenis Cespedes and that may make them the most viable option to oversee representation for draftees.
When the drafted players arrive at their respective teams, CBA guidelines suggest an enhanced education system for the transition to life in America. This is one of the more admirable stipulations in the proposal. Some of these guys have nothing further than a basic grammar school foundation and would benefit greatly from continued education. Once again, the MLB budget would increase, creating or expanding departments and new personnel and potentially decreasing bonus pool money for these prospects and others significantly. More players drafted could mean less money to each of them because of the stiff 100% tax on draft budget overages. Participation in the draft could dwindle if more money isn't allowed to be spent and even if it is, teams might not spring enough cash to lure prospects before they become more established. Players whose potential hasn't reached its apex may stay behind in aforementioned development leagues for several years to polish skills and attempt to jump up a few rounds in subsequent drafts. This would be a risky maneuver for trainers and players alike. It almost forces middle of the road players to gamble with their future.
Each country's national laws have to be taken into consideration as well and stepping on the wrong toes could cause a stumble off the blocks. Mandatory military service time in countries like South Korea and China could require a delayed draft age or a Draper-sequence sales pitch to country leaders. The government may have to lend a hand in the litigation process to get the ball rolling in this arena.
Money is always a factor and the CBA suggestions seem likely to generate more cash in the long run by garnering more interest in the amateur player draft and a closer following of players through the minors on a global scale. It will certainly cost more, but MLB wouldn't consider it if it weren't profitable overall. The profit might come at the expense of smaller leagues. The CBA foreshadows protection for the Mexican, Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese leagues, but an they really have both? Can they take the most marketable players from these leagues before they ever suit up in hometown unis and still keep these leagues' revenue flowing enough to break even? The answer seems obvious. Selig wants a "real World Series" in baseball and the best way for him to achieve it may be to expedite the process through one globalized MLB. If other leagues, like the financially brittle Nippon league folds in the process, it may just be one broken egg for Buds Sunday morning Denver omelet.
Many hurdles lie in front of an international draft and some of them seem too high to scale for a league that has already stumbled in simpler versions, but with an eye toward the future and room to amend rules as problems arise, an international draft could become a worldwide spectacle much like the NFL's has become nationally. It could also leave hundreds of players in development leagues without representation and several established professional leagues bankrupt. When the next proposal rolls around we'll see whether MLB officials pulled it together, or simply couldn't make the jump for 2014.