Major League Baseball proposal for international draft receives resounding ‘no’ from players’ union

Earlier this month, according to The Athletic, Dominican outfielder Juan Soto rejected an offer from the Washington Nationals for 15 years, $440 million, which would have made Soto the highest-paid player in the game. Soto, 23, born in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, was signed by Washington as an amateur free agent in July 2015 when he was still 16, and went on to help the Nationals win a title of the 2019 World Series.

The franchise can now trade in their superstar phenom, but regardless, Soto is poised to earn a hefty payday wherever he lands. It represents the dream that many Latin prospects pursue.

One such example is Cristian Garcia. Through 32 minor league games this year, Dominican infielder Cristian Garcia was batting .246. Garcia, 18, is currently part of the Los Angeles Angels farm system, playing in the Arizona Complex League at the Rookie level. He played in the Dominican Summer League last year after signing with the team.

It’s a far cry from just two years ago when Cristian’s father Miguel Garcia said he and his son were caught off guard by the San Diego Padres after the team pulled out of a verbal agreement with Cristian, leaving the young prospect without an agreement and his immediate future in baseball uncertain.

“It was devastating to say the least,” Miguel Garcia said in 2020, according to a USA TODAY Sports report. “Because (we) had made a lot of plans based on that.”

The Garcia family’s ordeal in 2020 is just a taste of the complicated business that international amateur free agents face, especially in talent-rich Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic. International prospects aren’t ruled by a project like their teenage peers in the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. This week, the Major League Baseball Players Association rejected what it called the league’s “final” proposal for an international draft, meaning a fraught system remains in place.

“The Players Association today rejected what MLB called its ‘final’ proposal to establish a draft and hard slot system for international entrants. The players made it clear from the outset that any draft international must significantly improve the status quo for these players and not unfairly discriminate between these players and domestic entrants,” the MLBPA said in a statement.

The international draft question was tabled by the league and the union in March when the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was agreed by both parties.

USA TODAYIn Latin America, big league clubs exploit prospects as young as 12, federal government whistleblower says

“I think it should be the same for the Latin player as it is for the American player,” Miguel Garcia said in Spanish via a recent text message when asked about the MLBPA’s decision.

Another Dominican scout who has worked for several major league clubs and who asked not to be named, said the overwhelming feeling on the island after the MLBPA rejection was a sense of relief.

“Most people don’t want the (international) draft,” the scout said.

There hasn’t been an international draft in professional baseball for decades, and the issue has become a thorny one for both the league and the union. The rules put in place by MLB – no international amateur prospect can sign deals with major league clubs until the prospect is 16 – have been increasingly circumvented or ignored in recent years as teams aggressively seek out baseball’s next big talent, sometimes pursuing such young prospects. like 12 and 13.

What can often happen is that a verbal agreement is made between a major league team and a coach that helps develop one or more players from an early age. These verbal pacts are often forged years before the prospect turns 16, and then when it comes time for the boy to sign, a number of scenarios can play out, often to the detriment of the prospects and their families.

Team budgets are shrinking, with no international pool money to sign the prospect; MLB’s front office regime takes over and waives existing verbal agreements because the scout or executive who made the original pact is no longer there; major league scouts may feel that a prospect has not developed according to the team’s expectations and will drop the verbal arrangement altogether, leaving the prospect out in the cold.

“We are clear with clubs, players and their agents that any agreement or agreement prior to the date a player is eligible to sign is completely unenforceable and is not recognized by our office,” MLB said in a statement. press release published in 2020. USA TODAY Sports report. “It’s been our policy for years, and every officer knows it. Clubs, agents and players do not report these deals or understandings to us. »

Other dangers include trainers or scouts skimming off a prospect’s signing bonus or prospects and their families taking out loans at usurious interest rates, only to be unable to repay those loans at a later date if the verbal agreement they accepted has been terminated.

“On the one hand you have these first deals made (between) MLB teams and coaches, with kids ages 12 and 13,” said a veteran Dominican coach, who also requested anonymity. “(Deals) are secured with nothing more than a handshake. Sometimes they hold, but most of the time they don’t. Imagine the conversation, telling a 14-year-old you have a deal verbally with (an MLB team) for $2 million, only to be told a year or two later that you don’t have it.

“Teams walk away from these deals just because they can,” the trainer added. “If they find someone better or the player hasn’t developed, the coaches try to find another team at the last minute, who haven’t (already) committed their money.”

In the most recent impasse, the union and MLB could not find common ground on many issues, including the amount of money spent on the top 600 picks of a proposed international draft in 20 rounds. According to multiple reports, MLB offered $191 million while the union wanted $260 million. Another step in the negotiations was the proposal to eliminate draft selection compensation.

The Players’ Association has long opposed a salary cap, but during the 2016 ABC negotiations, the union agreed to a cap on international budgets. This concession did not improve the system of signing international prospects, however, and the Dominican coach said that the business only got worse.

“Corruption is very bad,” said the trainer. “So bad that some scouts won’t come to your pitch if you don’t bribe.” If you make a deal, a percentage of that deal goes to them. MLB says they want to clean it up, and that’s why a draft is needed. But they don’t want the same money spent (like) the MLB draft in the United States”

The league established the Coaches Partnership Program in 2018, designed to “help grow baseball internationally while addressing important issues in the international marketplace…Participating coaches are required to meet certain MLB standards, including early registration and doping testing of their players, and they maintain an ongoing dialogue with MLB on international baseball policy.

But if one day an international project is implemented, it could spell the end of the network of trainers in places like the Dominican Republic.

According Athleticismthe league released a statement after the union’s rejection of the draft international proposal which said in part: “We are disappointed that the MLBPA chose the status quo over moving to an international draft that would have guaranteed future international players bigger signing bonuses and better educational opportunities, while improving transparency to better address the root causes of corruption in the current system.

For now, it’s business as usual throughout Latin America. At least one voice has said the status quo – no international draft – does not work in favor of the prospects.

“Right now it’s like a bad divorce and the kids are the victims,” ​​the Dominican coach said.

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