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MLB pushing for an international draft with new CBA looming

If instituted, an international draft will change the way MLB teams’ minor league ranks are filled.

Yoan Moncada, Red Sox top prospect who was signed in March of 2015 for $31.5 million
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

With the current MLB collective bargaining agreement (CBA) set to end shortly after the 2016 postseason, Major League Baseball owners are pushing for an international draft in the next CBA to replace the current international signing period. The current draft proposal Is a 10-round draft held over two days, and would start in March of 2018. The plan is for there to be a minimum age of 18 in place by the year 2021.

The biggest reason reason for this proposal cited by MLB owners is the corruption in the process of acquiring foreign talent. Known as buscones, these "street agents" often take advantage of a player when he is young by providing food, lodging, and other accommodations in order to receive a piece of the player's signing bonus when they are eventually signed.

In addition, the current system doesn't have a strict set of guidelines outside of basic age and pro-status eligibility. At the same time, players are trying to achieve the highest signing bonus possible and often turn to performance-enhancing drugs increase their performance and thus increasing their value to potential suitors.

There is also no test policy internationally since PEDs are legal in many countries outside the United States.

"As part of baseball's proposal, MLB would operate facilities in the Dominican Republic, where international draft prospects would be invited to live to develop their skills and education before becoming eligible,” ESPN’s Buster Olney reported. “This would also give MLB much greater control over a process which has often been viewed by baseball executives as a wild, wild West of player procurement."

In the current system, each MLB team is given a bonus pool of which to spend money on signing bonuses for international signees. In 2015, bonus pools of $2.9 million were awarded to each team across the board, and then adjusted based on team performance in the prior season. Another $700,000 is then added to each team's bonus pool. Signing bonus of $10,000 or under given to players do not count against the spending cap.

The international signing period covers amateur players who are not from the United States, Canada, or Puerto Rico. Exempt from this period are players who are 22 years old and have played in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, or are 23 and have played in a professional league recognized by the MLB Commissioner's Office since they are not considered amateurs.

Obviously, a player who has previously signed a contract to play in MLB or MiLB is not considered an amateur, so they are also exempt. The international signing period runs from July 2 through June 15 of the following season. Teams are eligible to sign any player who turns 17 before Sept. 1 of the current year or will turn 17 during his first professional season.

Astros DH Yulieski Gurriel was signed out of Cuba this year for $47.5 million over five years.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

While the current process is needlessly complex and has its downfalls, the proposed new format is not all rainbows and unicorns, either. One line of reasoning being used to promote this draft is that it will lower the influence of the buscones, by imposing a system that will only allow the players to negotiate with one team, therefore lessening the need for an agent. That is a two-edged sword, however, because it removes the only leverage that IFAs have.

Unlike American players, who can usually threaten to go back to school, IFAs can only threaten to sign with another team for a higher bonus. If there is a draft, the player can only negotiate with one team, and MLB teams (and owners, in particular) will use this leverage to pay their international draftees as little as possible.

If this idea is put into practice, it is unlikely that there will be much outcry about the issues. Some small-market teams, such as Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Milwaukee, will likely be in full support of the system, as it improves their chances of landing premium International talent.

Without the chance of large-market teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, or Red Sox poaching the best players, the draft will be a good way to easily bolster their systems. The system would also probably be beneficial to the Tigers, as they are infamous for not being heavily involved in the international market. This will get them more involved with scouting the top amateur talents available.