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Thoughts on an international draft

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While the general baseball world focuses its attention on the exciting World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs, people involved in the player development process have their eyes on a more complicated and less pleasant issue: Major League Baseball's desire to implement an international draft, currently being negotiated as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.

MLB reportedly wants a 10-round draft beginning in 2018. Player age eligibility would rise gradually from the current age 16 to 18 by 2021. Per Buster Olney's original report at ESPN,com,

"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. 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."

When the news broke last week, reaction was mainly negative throughout the game. Mike Bates at MLB Daily Dish looked at detrimental effects the draft had on baseball in Puerto Rico and predicted that the new system would be a disaster for MLB in the long run. On October 20th, Ben Badler at Baseball America compared the proposed new system to the complex mechanisms currently in place, pointing out the opposition to the proposal not just from trainers but from scouts.

The proposals have triggered an actual revolt, Badler reporting this morning that trainers are boycotting this week's MLB Dominican talent showcase and that many scouts and front office people who deal with the international market support them.

Here's my take.

***The international market does need reform. There are too many loopholes in the current system which can still be exploited by high-revenue clubs. Some form of international draft could even out the talent access for all 30 teams.

***More importantly from a moral perspective, there are problems with unsavory trainers taking advantage of players, even including examples of human trafficking. Changes are obviously needed to curb these abuses.

***The Dominican Republic is not Puerto Rico and I am not convinced that an international draft, per se, would reduce the number or quality of international players entering the game, at least from the DR.

***When the last series of domestic draft changes were introduced, a lot of people hated them and predicted disaster. However, the draft changes have turned out to be beneficial for the most part.

***All that said, the goal of the current proposal seems to be less about competitive balance and protecting players from abuse and more about saving money for the owners, at the expense of the youngest and most vulnerable cohorts of the player population.

***Intuitively, the proposal to raise the eligibility age from 16 to 18 seems particularly egregious and unnecessary to me and the part of the proposal most likely to have a detrimental effect on the players. It would absolutely put a hammer on any negotiating power the players have since most of these international players will not have a college option to fall back on.

***The reported lack of input and consultation between MLB and those who know the international market best, a key problem explored by Badler in particular, is a big red flag and makes many look with suspicion on the whole issue.

I concur.

I am not opposed to an international draft in theory and am willing to suspend judgment until we see the final result.

However, what we know about the proposals so far does not fill me with confidence. The problems with the current methods of international talent acquisition should be solvable without destroying the positive parts of the system or making other problems worse, but that can only happen if everyone involved is brought into the process.