Friday, January 8, 2010

The International Draft

Ten Changes over the Next Decade for Baseball

#4 An International Draft

During a interview with Bud Selig around the World Series this year, he talked about potential changes that he wanted to make in the Collective Bargaining Agreement when discussions re-open in 2011. Selig earmarked changes to the draft system as being one of the changes he wanted to make.

The rationale for making the draft international would be to even the playing field amongst signing amateur talent outside of the United States. So for players such as Aroldis Chapman, who signed a reportedly $30M contract with Cincinnati this week, he would have to enter the draft to determine what team they would play for. This would mean that the landscape of the Dominican League camps and international scouting would change drastically. Rather than having the right to sign any of the talent directly out of their home countries, teams would now have to wait for the MLB draft in order to sign talent. This would be a major change for the draft and have both positive and negative effects.

The positive changes that would likely come from an international draft would be a slight competitive balance shift. Teams that are less aggressive in setting up international camps will now have the same opportunity to sign the top talent outside of the United States as teams that are more aggressive with camps will no longer have the luxury of signing many players outside of the United States after grooming them in their camps. Another positive is that there has been some dirty business that has occurred in signing international prospects. Much like the agent system in the United States, there are people in Latin America that will work for players and then take much of their salary if they do get signed. The rights for players would be under closer scrutiny.

A positive is that the draft could become far more interesting to follow if the story lines will include players that could potentially be closer to MLB ready. This could be good for the game if the draft becomes more of an event like competing leagues. It is likely that the MLB draft will never have the hysteria of the NFL, NBA or NHL that includes talent ready to play at the highest level, but it may be a step in that direction. In 2007, the first two rounds of the draft were broadcast on ESPN for the first time in the history of the MLB Draft. Last season, the draft was held on the MLB Network for extensive coverage. There is potential growth in that event and the international draft would certainly engage more fans in foreign markets.

The major negative to the international draft would be the clerical work that would be needed. In order for players to become eligible they would have to declare for the draft and in doing so that would require a massive effort from baseball to cover all of the eligible talent coming mostly from Latin America and Asia. There will also be quite a bit of work required by baseball operations departments to cover such a large territory. There already is coverage in international markets of varying degree for each team, however with an international draft, there will be even more travel needed for scouting.

It is in my opinion that for the international draft, baseball would benefit from the competitive balance argument. The counter argument is fairly strong in this case however too because the sport may not be ready right now to make such a major change as it will require teams to significantly alter their approaches in scouting and player development. The idea has been set now, but it seems more likely that the international draft may not be ready for implementation at the 2011 CBA discussions, unless a well thought out plan is produced by the Office of the Commissioner. Likely by the end of the decade, an international draft will be part of baseball after some more time and thought is put into this idea.

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