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International Free-Agent Draft: Pros And Cons

This is a version of point-counterpoint on a topic few want to see happen: An international free agent draft.

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You've all seen point/counterpoint debates. Two people are sent to video recording studios after prepping heavily on their topic. And in the makeup chair. One is dressed in sartorial splendor, and is a hard-liner for one side of the highly-charged issue. On the other side is a resplendently attired individual in a different city, battling tooth-and-nail for earning points to his side. The host is all Savile Row himself, and is in yet a third city. He may or may not have a horse in the race of the issue at hand. They all exchange pleasantries, and display all the social acumen of three-year-olds that missed their nap time. Only minus the kicking and screaming. Perhaps.

This won't be a debate like that. In part, because it's hard to find someone to honestly defend the idea of a major-league international free agent (from here on: "IFA") draft. Few people really like-like it. Finding a proponent would be like finding someone good with the Landon Donovan snub after Jozy Altadore's' hamstring gave out. That said, the IFA draft will happen. Probably rather soon. Despite nobody really being sure how it will be written.


As for why it will happen, many owners don't really like high costs. If an owner has the option of signing an unproven commodity with major-league star upside for $30 million, or for $1.65 million, they'll take the latter almost every time. In the wild west days, Aroldis Chapman's signing got really expensive. The Cubs threw $30 million at Jorge Soler, and the Dodgers tossed $40 million to Yasiel Puig off of one batting practice. Many owners didn't want that practice to continue.

Some team owners, of course, are more pro-IFA draft than others. Particularly, those owners who don't want to ante up to have a scouting caravan overseas. It isn't merely about watching the players play. it's also about interviewing them. And their families. And selling the recruited on your system of doing business. I hold to the premise that, while scouting baseball is difficult, it isn't a crap shoot. If my niece who knows nothing about baseball were recruiting, relying heavily upon the instinct and counsel of her pet cats? Then, it's a crap shoot. It's an inexact science.

And the Cubs are proud of their scouting. For teams that aren't good at scouting, whether the talent evaluation side, or the developing relationships side, and both matter, "It isn't faiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir! All the other teams are getting the good talent, and we're getting the leftovers. Make it even. have a draft."

So, once all the details are ironed out, in about two or three years, we will have a draft.

To the ambivalent, that sounds fair enough. Truth be told, better scouting will still probably shine through over the long haul, as in a (presumed) four round draft, the teams that are good at locating talent will still be able to find the good (yet under-scouted) talent, as San Antonio has done in the NBA. However, there is a downside.


If I were to ask you to do me a favor that was rather difficult to accomplish, but not totally disagreeable, what would likely be your first question? Example: if I were to ask you to put together a spreadsheet of (insert something very baseball related, but not currently done by any of the current websites), what would you likely ask? What's in it for me?

If I were to respond: "I may, or may not, give you a citation in my next System Sonogram," you might run a quick math problem. One hundred or so hours of work, possible written recognition. Hmmmm.... That's a rather poor return on investment. I think you'd pass. However, if I were to offer you 300 shares of McDonald's stock if it meets my specs, that's a little different. At around $100 a share, that seems like a valid return.

I'm not going to offer either, as I don't have anything in mind. However, as baseball owners tamp down on how much they are willing to spend on overseas talent, the kids receiving the ever-shrinking check are paying attention. When the Dominican Republic was outside of the MLB draft, youngsters there saw baseball as a way off the island. While they still do, the reduced amount they can expect in signing bonuses makes other options more compelling. In the day, every third baseball card seemed to be a pitcher or shortstop from San Pedro de Macoris. Now, not so much.

Brasil (that's how they spell it, that's how I spell it) has some good baseball players. Some of them might even use more than one name. (More futbol humor.) Imagine a kid who is torn between three activites, but likes baseball, sees a countryman sign a big baseball contract, and moves his family to a better neighborhood. Would that encourage him or discourage him from learning to play outfield better? As management chisels the amount in bonuses, when TV money is at a bubbly high, the kid might as well play the "safe game in town," and try to be the best midfielder he can be.

One other problem exists on the draft front. Not only do owners want to limit the amount going to 16-year-olds from the Caribbean. So do major-league veterans. Like many on baseball blogs, they see it as a wise investment to throw four years and $47 million at a marginally over league average outfielder in his declining years. Instead of less than a tenth of that for a kid off the continent who could be solid for a decade to come.

The MLB Players Association and the owners will be responsible for deciding when, and how, the draft will begin. And proceed. This will help owners, like the Ricketts family, keep down costs. And spend it on MLBPA members, instead. Which matters to them, but few baseball fans.

I want to see baseball thrive into the future. I want to see teams being encouraged to spend money overseas. How do you encourage instead of discourage someone from undertaking a major project? Remember the possible citation versus the guarantee of shares of stock? If Tom Ricketts thinks that plopping a 20-acre academy in Brailieia, Brasil will make the Cubs a better team, he might just do it. However, if that will just make it easier for the Phillies to draft the best player the Cubs develop, where is the upside? It might be there, but it's sure harder to buy into.

Of course, the Phillies ownership and player rep would be good with the volunteerism for the betterment of the Phillies. They don't really want to develop a relationship with in Brasil anyway. or they'd have built an academy themselves.

Next time: What will happen in early July?