This past off-season’s 99-day lockout, the second longest of its kind in the history of MLB, resulted in major shifts favoring the rights of players. Minimum salaries for players and luxury-tax thresholds increased, respectively forcing, and encouraging teams, to invest more in the on-field product.
The work stoppage was an ugly process. Both MLB and the MLBPA negotiated for weeks to save the 162-game season. Eventually, both sides compromised, and the season started just a week later than originally scheduled. However, both sides failed to establish a necessary and inevitable caveat: An International Draft.
Most casual fans are aware of the domestic amateur draft that happens annually during the season; High School and College players, if selected, negotiate with the team that drafted them based on the slot value of where they were taken. Much less is commonly known about the international signing process.
Essentially, most players outside of the US and Canada are permitted to sign with an MLB organization when they turn 16. However, many top-tier players, especially in Latin America, agree to deals with teams as early as the age of 13. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, many elite players in the Dominican Republic drop out of school to pursue baseball careers at as early as ten years old. This incentivizes these young children, many of whom grow up impoverished, to take performance-enhancing drugs in the hope that an increase in performance will catch the eyes of MLB scouts and secure a large signing bonus.
While an International Draft is not without its downsides, it would certainly limit the incentive for young children to drop out of school at such a young age and potentially hurt themselves with PEDs, as there would no longer be verbal agreements made with players under the age of 16.
During the lockout, MLB proposed an international draft late in the negotiation process, to the annoyance of the MLBPA, who have long been opposed to the idea. To preserve the start of the 2022 season, both sides agreed to kick the can down the road, setting a July 25 deadline for the implementation of an international draft.
In an effort to sweeten the deal for the MLBPA, MLB offered to end the qualifying offer system, which the players have loathed since its implementation in 2012. Essentially, players who have fulfilled their required service time to finally hit free agency can be extended a qualifying one-year offer by their team (worth $18.4 million in 2022). Players have the chance to accept the offer or to decline it and test free agency. Most players who are productive enough to be given a qualifying offer have waited six to seven years while being underpaid before they hit free agency and find long-term financial security. The qualifying offer complicates that mission for many players, as any opposing team that signs a player in free agency who declined a qualifying offer must forfeit their first-round pick in the following draft (teams drafting in the top ten forfeit a second-rounder instead). The draft pick compensation required to sign one of these players can destroy a player’s value, as was seen this past offseason with former all-star Michael Conforto, formerly of the New York Mets, who has still yet to sign with any team following his declining of the $18.4 million offer last November.
The stage was set for the MLB and MLBPA to finally agree on an international draft. Both sides had much to gain from an agreement: dissipation of the corruption of young players in Latin American countries, and full value being awarded to productive players hitting free agency for the first time without the worry of draft pick forfeiture. All that was left was for both sides to agree on how total money was to be awarded to the 600 players taken in the international draft.
Unfortunately, MLB and the MLBPA failed to come to an agreement on the total money that would be allotted to the players. According to Alden Rodriguez of ESPN, the gap between the two sides never reached less than $69 million. This is a very unfortunate turn of events for the young players in Latin America, who will not have a chance to be subject to an international draft until the implementation of the next CBA.
While the use of an international draft as a bargaining chip by the MLB and MLBPA is not surprising, it still comes to the detriment of young players, who will still often be pressured to take PEDs to get a large signing bonus. Hopefully, MLB can find a way to decrease the corruption for the sake of these young players. Even so, the overarching issue is still apparent: At what point will MLB and the MLBPA, both part of a multibillion-dollar corporation, decide that the pressure put on these young Latin American players is not worth the proportionally small amount of money that separates the two sides?