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MLB International Draft

Lozano: An MLB International Draft is a bad idea

An international draft would be the ultimate participation trophy in MLB.

Before the owners ended their lockout, a point of contention between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association was the idea of an international draft. Currently, international players are signed like free agents, with a cap on spending in each signing period.

MLB teams frequently scout pre-teen prospects and sign them in their teenage years in favor of the draft. International free agents can sign with clubs at 16 years old. 

The owners want to eliminate this system in favor of a 20-round draft, with undrafted players still eligible to sign, post-draft. Unlike the regular draft, which is based on the team’s record, there would be a rotating schedule to allow every team the opportunity to draft top international prospects. 

The owners and MLBPA reached their deal without settling the international draft question. But it looms. International players, especially Latin American players, are not seeking to alter this system anytime soon. 

There’s a reason that MLB wants to change the current system. The reason offered is to reduce or eliminate a system susceptible to corruption. Who’s kidding who? 

That’s not the real reason. 

The real reason

Rather, MLB’s main concern is reducing the costs of developing and signing talent in Latin America by controlling the prospects in the pool and their compensation. Simply, it’s a way to reduce the owner’s labor costs. 

The argument that the impetus is to clean up a dirty industry suggests that the corruption comes from unregulated third parties. However, there has been nefarious activities related to the current system of international free agency in MLB’s ranks. Teams have been disciplined and even lost their positions for participating in complex kickback schemes. 

It’s a curious thing to contribute to the problem and create a “solution” that really only benefits the group that created the issue initially. 

If there was an international draft, I suggest that there would still be undrafted players that might get an opportunity, but a lesser one considering there’s been a contraction of minor league teams. After all there will be far less investment in the undrafted player than the drafted player.

The purpose of an international draft

It’s funny to see team owners kick the tires on the concept of the international draft. But really what else do owners know?  The draft is what they know. 

The essential purpose of the draft is to minimize the resources spent on evaluating and signing talent. Without the draft, team owners feel that there will be some fiscally undisciplined members of their ranks who will spend whatever it takes to get and hoard the best players. They think the same thing is currently happening with international players, the only group not subject to a draft. 

After all, many of these franchises are owned by calculating owners. Those owners have made fortunes being opportunistic, exhibiting guile. At times, they’ve demonstrated sheer ruthlessness.

There’s no mercy for competitors who fall behind in their non-sports related enterprises. However, everything changes when it comes to the sports teams in their portfolios. 

The concept of the draft should be foreign to American enterprises. After all, this is a place where there’s pride in demolishing the competition. In what other setting does a  winner fall to the back of the line and the loser gets more opportunities to prevail?

That scheme would be tagged with a pejorative “socialist” or “communist” moniker in any other setting but sports.

The ultimate participation trophy

The draft serves as the ultimate participation trophy. Instead of a generic trophy, though, you get the first overall pick and the chance to draft the best available, draft eligible player.  You don’t have to be entrepreneurial and use contacts to sign players. 

There is no guarantee as to whether a team will take advantage of the higher draft picks and fortunate draft capital. Sure they might get an earlier opportunity to draft what they perceive to be the best players for their organization. They still are more than capable of messing things up, though.

It takes talent to scout and obtain talent. Winning and losing isn’t coincidental. 

If a team really wants to make inroads into Latin America and sign and develop the best players, there’s no evidence to suggest that the draft will do anything but to suppress player wages. 

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