There will be no international draft and the qualifying offer remains in place. Major League Baseball and the Players Association could not reach a deal Monday, a deadline the sides set in March to determine whether the sport would institute an international draft for the first time.
A key trade-off for players would have been the elimination of the qualifying offer, which often negatively affects the markets of the best players. But the issues attached to the negotiation were complex and layered.
MLB on Sunday made an offer it positioned as final, for a bonus pool of $191 million. The players had proposed a bonus pool of $260 million.
In January, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Maria Torres reported an in-depth story on the corruption in the international amateur signing process, particularly in the Dominican Republic and Latin America. One of the problems is early deals, agreements teams and players make before a player reaches the minimum age required to formally sign, 16. An international draft would likely have ended many of those early arrangements, at least for the best players taken at the top of a potential draft.
But questions persist as to whether MLB sufficiently policed early deals in recent years, and whether it wanted to.
“They want it screwed up, so the teams will say it’s screwed up and that they want to change,” one club official told Rosenthal and Torres. “It’s like an NHL fight. They just let it go.”
Said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark in March: “Those challenges are largely associated with those that are cutting the checks. In other words, it takes individuals engaging in the corruption that we see for that corruption to happen. What I have said, and what this organization has said, is that what we see internationally is not a system issue as much as it is a people issue. And so whether there’s a draft, or there’s not a draft, there are going to remain issues that they’re going to need to be addressed.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred batted back in June.
“We have spent literally — literally — millions of dollars investigating allegations of misconduct, we have disciplined clubs,” Manfred said. “This goes back to when Sandy Alderson first was in the commissioner’s office. Our efforts to rein in corruption in the Dominican have been ongoing and legion. It’s easy to say that it’s people that cut the check, that they’re engaged in corruption. But, you know, somebody’s taking the check, right?”
Even if an international draft did effectively diminish one problem, questions of how a draft would address other issues abound. International amateurs often pay a large percentage of their signing bonuses to trainers and other handlers. It remains unclear how a draft would have kept more money in players’ pockets, besides the overall increase in the pool of money available to international amateurs.
The sides made differing proposals on matters like educational allowances for signees, compliance monitoring and what time of year a draft would be annually held. The MLBPA proposed creating a non-profit, the “International Player Development and Human Rights Foundation,” that would, in part, “study the extent to which the scouting and development of international amateur prospects complies or fails to comply with internationally recognized conventions on human rights.”
As is always the case in bargaining, economics figured in heavily. A change from the current system, in which teams have to compete with one another to sign players, to one where there is no competition between teams, is a material change in process, and a desirable one for owners.
Speaking prior to the All-Star Game last week, Clark said the union would have interest in continuing to discuss potential changes without a draft.
“There’s no doubt that there can continue to be dialogue,” Clark said. “And what’s fascinating is, if there’s no deal to be done on an international draft, we made a proposal during bargaining that did not include an international draft, that was focused on addressing the corruption. … There’s an opportunity to have that conversation for the exact reason that you’re raising it. There hasn’t been as much of an interest in having that conversation to this point, it has simply been draft, draft, draft without much of a focus on the other things that could otherwise be done. But in the event that we don’t find common ground, we’re willing to have a conversation about how to address those things.”
The league, in response, said in a statement:
"MLB worked to reach an agreement with the MLBPA to reform the international amateur system in ways that would address longstanding challenges and benefit future players. We are disappointed the MLBPA chose the status quo over transitioning to an international draft that would have guaranteed future international players larger signing bonuses and better educational opportunities, while enhancing transparency to best address the root causes of corruption in the current system."