When the 2015 MLB Draft begins on Monday, not every baseball player is eligible -- or some would say required -- to go through the draft process. While other major sports allow players from around the world to be drafted -- Major League Baseball is unique in holding a draft for ball players in Canada and the United States (and its territories) while having completely separate rules for players who are outside those regions. That, however, may soon be a thing of the past.
Players eligible to be drafted
A player is eligible for selection if the player is a resident of the United States or Canada and has never before signed a major league or minor League contract. Residents of Puerto Rico and other territories of the United States are also eligible. About 75 percent of current major league players on Opening Day rosters this season were born in these countries. Foreign born players who enroll in a high school or college in the United States are also eligible. The other 25 percent of players are the subject of our discussion below.
International player signing rules
Players from other countries are not eligible for selection in the regular amateur player draft. The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) imposes strict limits on the amount that clubs may spend on signing bonuses for most foreign born players, who are not subject to the draft. There are penalties for clubs who exceed the spending limits.
The range of bonus pool limits for signing international players ranged from $1.89 million to just over $ 5 million per club, based on the team's record in the prior season.The Tigers had a bonus pool limit of $1.95 million total to spend on signing international players in 2014. Bonus pool money can also be traded from one team to another.
The penalties range from a 100 percent tax on every dollar spent above the bonus limits, up to a 100 percent tax plus a prohibition on signing any international player with a bonus of over $300,000 in future years. Some teams have been willing to pay the penalties for blowing past the limits and signing top international amateur talent.
Any player over age 23 with five years of professional league experience is exempt from the bonus limits. Not many good players can fly under the MLB's radar that long. The recent availability of Cuban players has caused a stir in the international market, because several high-profile Cuban players who have recently signed were older, so they were true free agents, free to sign with any club for any amount.
Including international players in some form of a draft is high among the list of priorities for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and major league owners.They will say that this is about fairness and preventing wealthier clubs from spending lavishly to sign the premium international players, but the bottom line, as usual, is about the bottom line. Owners want to limit the amount of money that is spent on signing players, no matter where they come from. By restricting spending on prospects, many smaller market clubs complain that avenues where they could actually compete with wealthier clubs are being cut off.
How would an international player draft work?
MLB could expand its current draft to include players from some, if not most other countries. The fact that a large percentage of foreign born players are signed at just 16 or 17 years old would require a change in the age limits for players drafted, or a prohibition on signing players until age 18. The latter could have a devastating impact on developmental programs sponsored by major league clubs in Latin American countries. Clubs would have little incentive to develop pre-draft age players.
More likely, a separate draft for international players would be conducted, with limits on signing bonuses, and a whole separate set of draft rules from those of the current amateur player draft. MLB has a separate agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), which is the premier Japanese baseball league, and that would not likely be affected.
Players, general managers, baseball executives, agents and scouts all generally oppose signing bonus limits, both for international players and amateur players drafted, but owners are happy to limit spending in any way they can. The current CBA left open the possibility that an international draft could be implemented, but owners and players have not been able to agree on a format. It is likely that an international player draft will be implemented after the next round of collective bargaining, since current members of the major league baseball players association have nothing to lose personally by limiting the signing bonuses of those who are not yet members. It is probably just a matter of what the players will ask for in return for an international draft.
MLB Draft at a glance
Date: June 8
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: MLB Network
Date: June 9
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Date: June 10
Time: 1 p.m. ET