The implementation of an international draft is one of the most interesting – and complex – items being discussed as a new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated.
When the current CBA, which expires in December, went into effect before the 2012 season, international bonus pools were created in an effort to dissuade big-market teams from spending incredible amounts of money in the international market. The system was designed to level the playing field because teams that went over their bonus pool limit had to pay a 100 percent tax on their spending.
But the system didn't do much to curb the spending, especially as an increase in talented and highly desired Cuban players entered the international free-agent market. Several teams were more than willing to spend over their limits as well as take on the added taxes.
An international draft would be another attempt to level the playing field when it comes to acquiring talent outside the United States and Puerto Rico. According to an ESPN report, Major League Baseball is proposing creating a 10-round international draft that would take place over two days in March starting in 2018. Currently, international players can be signed as young as 16 years old, but by 2021 the minimum age to be drafted would increase to 18.
Bonuses in the new international draft would reportedly be similar to the draft bonus slots in the current amateur draft, with the highest picks receiving the top bonus slots.
For the Orioles, who ranked last among MLB's 30 teams in international spending this past signing season, an international draft would create more parity but would force the organization to make an added financial investment in the international market.
However, unlike the amateur draft, where unsigned players have opportunities to return to college, that's not the case for international players if they choose to go unsigned. They would be forced to wait a year to be drafted again.
But given how many teams have exceeded their international bonus pools since 2012 – Baseball America reported it was 18 teams and is a mix of both big-market clubs like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers as well as low-market clubs like the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics – the current system is definitely in need of adjustments.
In the last international signing period, the Dodgers paid nearly $46 million in penalty tax to sign 13 international players, including a pair of Cuban players who netted bonuses of about $15 million and $6 million.
By comparison, the $800,000 bonus the Orioles gave to Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez three years ago remains the highest bonus they've given to a player under the current international bonus parameters.
The biggest roadblock in implementing an international draft appears to be in the way MLB wants to control the way international players are scouted. According to the ESPN report, international draft prospects would be invited to MLB-operated facilities in the Dominican Republic, where they would develop, train and go to school before becoming eligible for the draft.
That's much different from the current structure, in which independent handlers train players and negotiate their bonuses, a rogue system that MLB wants to have more control over. That's probably easier said than done. Trainers in the Dominican have already threatened to hold their players out of an upcoming MLB showcase there to protest the international draft proposal. Even without that pushback, rewiring a system that has been a certain way for years would be difficult.
The players union must agree to MLB's proposal for the international draft to go into effect. It will be interesting to see how the union's membership – most of which were products of the amateur draft and saw signing bonuses that were a fraction of the ones given to top internationals players – interpret the proposal. Red Sox infielder Yoan Moncada, currently seen as the game's top prospect, received a $31.5 million signing bonus last year (Boston paid an equal amount in taxes), while no player in this past June's amateur draft received a signing bonus of more than $6.2 million.