Amateur scouts for all teams have been readying for Monday’s First-Year Player Draft in earnest for the few past months, but their reports on available players, in some cases, date back multiple seasons.
They have put a lot of miles on their cars and a lot of points in their rewards accounts. There are a lot of sore backs and butts going around from sitting in bleachers, and a lot of missed hours of sleep.
All of that work — weeks, months and years of it — is for the enormous task of finding amateur talent stretched across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
If commissioner Rob Manfred has his way, teams will go through the same process with international talent. But he’s got some hands to shake, babies to kiss, and, of course, the players association and its lawyers to satisfy, if he ever wants to see an international draft.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, or so it’s been said, but a worldwide draft isn’t just going to magically appear.
Many teams, like the Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, will be guarded as they wait for a system to shake out, with the possibility of being highly ticked. The players association will be the loudest opponent of all when the new collective bargaining agreement starts to get hammered out next year.
Yeah, yeah, it’s about the money. For those in favor of a worldwide draft and those against it. The Cuban amateur invasion has blown up the intent of the international cap in the current CBA, which the Rangers opposed, but has given strength to the union’s case.
The path to the major leagues is different in each country. Cuba is untapped and a wild card. The Dominican Republic is a baseball factory in which all 30 teams have an academy. Venezuela has gotten trickier.
Former major leaguer Tony Clark, the union’s executive director, said during spring training that to throw one blanket over Latin America just isn’t right.
“In theory, it sounds nice to suggest that everyone should enter the game the same way,” Clark said. “But the truth is international countries are markedly different from one another. The protocol and process leading up to a player being eligible to sign is different from country to country.
“The idea you can take one protocol and process from one place and drop it into another and hope it’s going to work is irresponsible.”
Clark seems to be a reasonable man, and he hasn’t said that Manfred’s push for a worldwide draft would wreck the labor harmony baseball has enjoyed since the disastrous 1994 strike.
Clark also doesn’t deny that Cuban amateurs, including 20-year-old sensation Yoan Moncada, are getting really big contracts.
(Cuban players like Rusney Castillo and Yasmany Tomas didn’t fall under amateur signing rules and became free agents once cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control.)
Clark acknowledges that the rules governing the signing of international amateurs need to be tweaked, but not overhauled and streamlined so that players from each country enter into the same passageway into the majors.
“There’s a lot of due diligence that has to happen and a lot of conversations with a lot of people before you ever end up with some common ground that suggests that everyone can enter the game the same way,” Clark said.
Manfred’s desire is to level the playing field and give teams in small markets with small budgets the same chances to land international talent as the big bullies. He wanted the international draft before the Red Sox signed Moncada for $31.5 million in March and gladly accepted that they would have to pay a 100 percent fine for busting their already-busted CBA-mandated limit.
Tampa Bay couldn’t have done that. But maybe the Tampa Bay franchise could have with a new ballpark and/or a new market. That’s another issue Manfred needs to address.
Oakland couldn’t have done it either, but maybe it could have if it had a stadium that fans wanted to visit without needing a tetanus shot. Yet another issue for Manfred.
The clubs that can spend money internationally and have worked to leave a footprint across Latin America, including the Rangers, don’t want their work and money to be marginalized.
But the new commish has latched onto the idea. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but an international draft isn’t just going to magically appear.
“In theory, it sounds like it makes a lot of sense,” Clark said. “But there’s a lot of moving pieces to that conversation that are going to be part of the conversation to see if that could ever be a possibility down the road.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
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