MLB players choose status quo over international draft
By James Wagner
MLB and its players’ union couldn’t agree on the specifics of an international amateur draft ahead of Monday’s deadline, and thus the status quo will continue in the sport.
Despite calls to reform an existing system that some have argued takes advantage of Latin American children, amateur players outside of the United States and Canada will continue to enter affiliated baseball via free agency. And the qualifying offer system, in which draft-pick compensation is assigned to certain major league free agents, will remain in place.
“Players made clear from the outset that any international draft must meaningfully improve the status quo for those players and not unfairly discriminate between those players and domestic entrants,” the MLB Players Association said, in part, in a statement Monday afternoon.
The league countered in a statement, in part: “We are disappointed the MLBPA chose the status quo over transitioning to an international draft that would have guaranteed future international players larger signing bonuses and better educational opportunities, while enhancing transparency to best address the root causes of corruption in the current system.”
When MLB and the union had their contentious negotiations for a new labor agreement this past offseason, a decision on the international draft had to be deferred to avoid delaying the start of the regular season. MLB effectively offered the union a trade: the introduction of an international amateur draft in 2024, which the league has long wanted but the union has long resisted, in return for the elimination of the draft-pick compensation system, which the union argued hurt players’ market value.
The sides had months to examine the complex topic, solicit input from people in the many countries affected, build support and tweak their offers. The union made another proposal on Saturday, while MLB countered with what it called its final and best offer Sunday.
MLB had proposed a draft of 20 rounds for international amateurs beginning in 2024 that would include $191 million in spending for the top 600 picks (which it said was $24 million more than the current system). The league’s proposed system would have placed hard rules on the assigned bonuses for each pick, a limit of $20,000 for signing undrafted free agents and a guarantee of at least $5,000 in scholarship money for all players.
The union had countered with a 20-round draft that included $260 million in spending for the top 600 picks. The union’s proposition had looser rules on the assigned bonuses, a limit of $40,000 for signing undrafted free agents, and a series of measures it felt could improve players’ education, combat corruption and provide safeguards against players from various countries being overlooked in scouting.
The union, in touch with player leaders throughout the negotiations, isn’t required to hold a full player vote, and it didn’t on Monday because the gap between the two proposals was too significant, according to a person familiar with the negotiations who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
The union, for example, felt there was still too large of a discrepancy in spending and top slot sizes between MLB’s existing domestic amateur draft, for players who at least finished high school, and its proposed international draft.
MLB has said it has wanted to overhaul the international free agent system, in which children as young as 16 can sign with the league’s 30 clubs, because of concerns over corruption, performance-enhancing drug use and verbal agreements with children much younger than allowed, particularly in the Dominican Republic. Some top scouts and trainers in the Dominican Republic agreed.
The league met resistance from the union and players who didn’t want to give up the free agency of international amateur players and who argued that it was the people cutting the check — league and team officials — who were not doing enough to stop any malfeasance. Even though several current and former MLB players were against the draft, they called for reforms to better enforce the rules, protect children and improve their educational opportunities.
“At their core, each of our proposals was focused on protecting against the scenario that all players fear the most — the erosion of our game on the world stage, with international players becoming the latest victim in baseball’s prioritization of efficiency over fundamental fairness,” the union said in its statement. “The league’s responses fell well short of anything players could consider a fair deal.”