Part I: An international Draft
"With the first selection of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the Minnesota Twins take shortstop Miguel Angel Sano out of the Dominican Republic."
To date, words similar to those have never been spoken at Major League Baseball's annual amateur Draft, held each June. Players available in each year's Draft class hail from the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico. If the powers that be have their way, however, that could all change as early as 2012.
Commissioner Bud Selig has stated on more than one occasion his support for both a hard slotting system for Draft bonuses and a Draft that would be open to amateur players from every nation.
"There's no question in my mind, in 2011, certainly a [hard] slotting system and a worldwide Draft are things we will be very aggressive in talking about," Selig said soon after this past Draft's signing deadline in August.
Is such an international Draft at all tenable? Is it realistic to imagine that there's a way to bring all of the baseball-playing nations under one Draft umbrella? There would no doubt be several hurdles to jump over, the most obvious of which would be coming to agreement on such a new system with the Players' Association. The Commissioner's Office has agreed that no such changes could take place until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated. The current CBA runs out at the end of 2011. The Commissioner's Office, as well as many front offices, declined to comment publicly on any issues that would have to be negotiated into the new CBA.
"So many of the international players are unknown to many different clubs. That's where the concerns are, that there is a competitive advantage from other clubs being able to have the resources to scout them and then bring them in."
-- Tom Allison,|
D-backs scouting director
That, combined with a variety of possible obstacles in other countries, could make a worldwide Draft much easier said than done. But first, the positives.
First and foremost, having all amateur players subjected to the same Draft would put them all on some kind of level playing field. Reports of unethical behavior in some foreign markets, particularly in Latin America, are not uncommon. Scouts, or "buscones," in these countries wield a tremendous amount of power, and bonuses to the top teenagers have escalated almost as much as Draft payouts have.
A Draft that included these players would presumably bring all amateur players under one set of rules and would thus provide some regulation to areas that have lacked it for some time. In today's landscape, it's often the teams with the deepest pockets who find success in international scouting. That's not always the case, but uncovering talent in countries like the Dominican Republic takes considerable resources. In a Draft system, all eligible players would be ones known to all 30 clubs, with showcases run by organizations like the MLB Scouting Bureau, a logical offshoot to bring information to all who wanted it.
"Certainly, putting everybody into the same pool, that would be the helpful part," D-backs scouting director Tom Allison said. "As you look at it, so many of the international players are unknown to many different clubs. That's where the concerns are, that there is a competitive advantage from other clubs being able to have the resources to scout them and then bring them in. I think the advantage is it could help level the playing field.
"You will know who the players are. That's been our biggest step we've had to overcome, really understanding who these players are. If they had to go through some kind of process where they had to sign up, whether it was with the Commissioner's Office, or through the Scouting Bureau, then you would know exactly who you were selecting."
Most people agree that in order for an international Draft to work, there would have to be some kind of opt-in program, as Allison suggested. Under the current structure, a player becomes eligible for the Draft -- assuming he fits the age criteria -- once a team or the Scouting Bureau officially submits a report. There's no way that would be possible if thousands of international players were to flood the pool. Players would have to declare themselves eligible, as they do in the other major sports.
If done the right way, an international Draft could help improve conditions in other countries. Assuming Major League Baseball were to evaluate players in a variety of countries equally, playing conditions would have to be somewhat parallel. There would have to be improvements in training, practice facilities and field conditions.
If that can somehow be accomplished, then it might curb costs, to an extent. That might seem counter-intuitive based on the recent climb in Draft bonuses and is why many feel a hard slotting system (to be discussed in detail in Part III of this series) would be necessary in tandem with any worldwide Draft effort. But even in the current structure, it would provide a certain general idea of what it would cost to sign a player, given the round he was taken in. And, equally important, it would mean only one team would be able to negotiate with a player, as opposed to the free-market system currently in place internationally.
"The positive would be there's some kind of cost certainty if there's some structure to it," said A's scouting director Eric Kubota, who typically deals only with the amateurs in the Draft, and not internationally. "You'd kind of have an idea going into it of what the cost is going to be. I think that's one of the big pluses."
The converse is aside from getting Major League Baseball and the Players' Association on the same page with any proposal, it's possible there will be too many complexities to muddle through to make this happen.
The biggest might be compliance. Will other countries be willing to allow Major League Baseball to dictate policy in such a manner? That remains to be seen. But envisioning Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican allowing someone else to control any citizen's right to work seems unlikely.
"There are a number of countries out there who don't want their kids to be drafted," said Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel Roy Clark, who recently took the job in Washington after years as the scouting director for the Atlanta Braves. "In the Dominican, I'm not sure they want us coming in and having a Draft there. It might be a little more difficult."
The issue of age discrepancy would also have to be addressed. In the Draft, a player can't be selected until after graduating high school. That's typically put the youngest players selected at age 17, with most being at least 18 years of age. Internationally, the minimum age is 16.
While that might sound like just one year to bridge, it could be insurmountable. Consider the countless stories of players who sign out of Latin America who are relied upon to provide for their families and even their communities. Asking them to wait another year for that payday might be unrealistic.
Simply verifying the ages would be difficult enough. Age falsification happens frequently in some of these countries and has led to many adjustments in recent years. Each country has vastly differing systems for record-keeping, some better than others. Getting everyone on the same page for a Draft could be a gargantuan task. Providing an ID number, as is required in the Draft currently, might be next to impossible.
Assuming it would be done at all, it would take time to institute programs for kids from early ages on up. And it's also a very big assumption that other countries would want U.S.-style programs in the first place. Each country's organized baseball is unique, and it will be a sizeable hurdle to get them to accept something different.
These are the issues the Schuerholz-led committee will have to carefully study. And hopefully, they are enlisting the help of a variety of sources around the globe. Even then, running a true worldwide Draft would be a herculean task.
"I'm not 100 percent sure the system is broken the way it is right now, but I guess I haven't given it enough thought," Kubota said. "The easy answer is the system is broken, let's fix it. As you sit back and think about it some more, you think about the positives and negatives of whatever system comes in, I think there's a lot of unknown, so it's hard to say whether that's going to fix the problems. There's really no easy answer to this problem."