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International players reportedly balking at possible MLB international draft

Reported player boycotts could limit upcoming showcase event in the Dominican Republic.

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Yoan Moncada wasn’t subject to an international draft, and signed with the Boston Red Sox for a $31.5 million bonus in February 2015.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The current collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association expires on Dec. 1, and among the several items up for negotiation is the possible implementation of an international draft. As talk circulates around an international draft, many top players expected to be a part of the next international signing period are reportedly threatening to skip upcoming industry showcase events.

MLB has scheduled its annual Dominican showcase event for Wednesday and Thursday, where top players display their wares for a bevy of major league scouts, executives, and talent evaluators. But trainers have balked at the idea of an international draft and might exercise what leverage they do have by holding their players out of the event, per Ben Badler of Baseball America:

“No one will take their players to the event next week,” said one prominent Dominican trainer. “There is a total boycott of all MLB events.”

The league’s current structure for signing international amateurs — players born outside the United States ages 16-22 and with less than five years of experience in a professional league recognized by MLB — involves allotted signing bonus values for teams, with more money available the worse a team’s record the previous year, very much like a draft.

There are penalties involved for exceeding these limits, topping out at 100 percent overage tax plus a limit on individual signing bonuses for two years, but so far that limit hasn’t proven to be enough of a deterrent for many teams. The Los Angeles Dodgers during the 2015-16 international signing period, for instance, paid over $45 million in penalties alone thanks to high-ticket signings in pitcher Yadier Alvarez ($16 million) and outfielder Yusniel Diaz ($15.5 million), among others.

Other teams to exceed their international bonus limits in recent years include the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Texas Rangers.

The Boston Red Sox signed Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada in February 2015 for $31.5 million, incurring a penalty of $31.5 million as well. Moncada is widely regarded now as the top prospect in baseball.

By contrast, the slot value for the No. 1 overall pick in the domestic MLB Draft in 2016 — Mickey Moniak of the Philadelphia Phillies — was $9.015 million.

Buster Olney of ESPN reported on Oct. 17 the details of the international draft proposal on the table:

Under the terms of MLB's initial concept, the new international draft system would start in March of 2018, with a 10-round draft held over two days. As the new structure evolved, with terms grandfathered into the process, the minimum age for draft-eligible players would be 18 years old by 2021.

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. 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.

While the logistics of an international draft could prove challenging, such an idea has legs. The owners want a draft as a way to control the costs of a burgeoning international landscape, while the players association can use international amateurs as a bargaining chip to negotiate for other things in the CBA that might help current MLBPA members, the players on 40-man major league rosters.