In a meeting with Major League Baseball officials last week in New York, Dr. David Bernier, the island's Secretary of Sport, outlined a proposal he believes will help baseball in Puerto Rico -- and it starts with a 10-year moratorium to the application of the First-Year Player Draft for Puerto Rican baseball players.
"The sudden establishment of the Draft, without previous notice nor trial period, did not allow Puerto Ricans to transform their development model to make it compatible with the new statutory reality," Bernier said in his proposal. "On the other hand, after 17 years of presence of the Draft in Puerto Rico, MLB has not been able to transform it into an international Draft. This has left Puerto Rico in a limbo state."
Puerto Rico has been included in the First-Year Player Draft since 1990. Players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Central America and Asia, as well as other countries, are not part of the Draft and can be signed as free agents.
That's part of the issue and a big reason why Bernier believes baseball on the island has declined over the years. Last month, the Puerto Rico Winter League announced it was suspending play after 69 years because of financial problems. Bernier believes the fall of the Winter League in Puerto Rico and its inclusion in the First-Year Player Draft are related.
"Why invest in Puerto Rico if 70 miles west and 500 miles south, in Dominican Republic and Venezuela respectively, I can invest directly in the detection and development without going through the Draft process," Bernier said.
"The investment in Puerto Rico is not a cost-effective one for Major League teams and has lost charm for the recruiter. This reality is substantiated by the decrease in numbers of players selected through the Draft and active in the Major Leagues. For example, in 1989, 47 players were signed, compared to only 21 in 2003. This creates a domino effect, less players at the top, less enthusiasm at the base. In the same way, organizations like our winter league, which could be associated with Major League teams in order to strengthen its structure, have suffered from the post Draft limbo state. To sum up, it is not the Draft itself, it was the sudden way it was established and to have limited it to Puerto Rico that has affected the development of our baseball."
Major League Baseball is assessing his petition.
"We listened to various proposals regarding potential efforts to develop more players in Puerto Rico and maintain the league," Rob Manfred, MLB's Executive Vice President of Labor Relations, said in a press release following the meeting. "The meeting was productive and the proposals will now be evaluated. MLB looks forward to continuing work with the parties and remains hopeful that a resolution can be reached."
The basic categories for players eligible for the First-Year Player Draft are these: high school players who have graduated and not attended college or junior college; college players from four-year universities who have completed their junior or senior year are or are at least 21 years old; all junior college players.
That model does not apply to Puerto Rico, Bernier said.
"Major League teams invest resources in identifying talented athletes in the school systems and colleges of the continental U.S. and also directly into the development of players that belong to the countries excluded from the Draft," Bernier said. "At this point, after the Draft's establishment, Puerto Rico is not a continent nor is part of the world recognized by the Draft. Our development model has never been, nor it is at the present time, a school-college based one; it is community based. It's the same model that was so effective in the years prior to the Draft, but now has less scouts' eyes and recruits in it."
In conjunction with the 10-year moratorium from the First-Year Player Draft, Bernier also proposes the establishment of four specialized baseball schools in different regions of the island. Ceiba, Caguas, Salinas and Manati are the proposed sites for academies. According to Bernier, Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, who is from Manati, has offered his support to the school in his hometown.
The proposed schools would be funded by the government, local municipalities and Major League Baseball.
Bernier's plan also includes a Collegiate Caribbean Series, a showcase that features the top collegiate players in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela and the creation of the National Development and Training Center in an old military base in Aguadilla, the hometown of Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado.
Bernier also advocates a stronger relationship and alliances between Major League Baseball teams and the professional Winter League teams of Puerto Rico.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.