The looming international draft


These days, whenever baseball lurches toward some draconian way of managing its incoming talent, I assume that the White Sox will benefit. Or simply be harmed the least.

That’s wearing off steadily, since the White Sox spent their entire $5.92 million draft budget allotment last June and even doled out $2.36 million in international signings over the past year. There’s some emptiness in those gestures, since the Sox made those advances after hard caps were put in place to keep in check their most aggressive counterparts with whom they could not, or would not compete. But that doesn’t change their new reality.

From this premise comes news of the previously rumored international draft coming to baseball a lot sooner than expected, with the commissioner’s office pushing for it as soon as this June.

The primary benefit to the league aligns with a goal that Jerry Reinsdorf has often sought–hard regulation of escalating costs. Or at least, further regulates the costs of international signings into the hard slot, since last year’s CBA already achieved that. Cost-cutting decisions rarely equal fun for the viewer, and this is little exception.

Craig Calcaterra raised this issue most prominently on Hardball Talk, but the fear of placing all international talent into a pool is that it removes the incentive of individual teams to spend on development. Their investments in foreign baseball academies would no longer be protected because they would no longer be able to sign its attendees before they were through high school and the draft. They could just operate the academies anyway, but teams have typically been more or less horrified whenever they are broached with the idea of sharing resources, because it’s not very conducive to winning games.

These concerns about international are not pulled of pure paranoia, either. Jorge Castillo wrote a piece for the New York Times last year that looked in on the state of baseball in Puerto Rico, and found a country that could barely support four winter league teams. The cause for the state of affairs was readily identified–teams had moved their scouts and developmental academies to countries where they could sign players and control them. High school baseball isn’t established/supplied/funded in Puerto Rico enough for the sport to flourish without outside investment, so it damn sure isn’t strong enough to flourish in the Dominican.

It’s not nearly to enough to compensate, but MLB has acknowledged the issue to a small degree, and directly finances a tiny academy in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Now if they just give it more than a $400,000 budget, and build 29 more, as well as 30 in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, things will be just fine.

Otherwise, a decrease in the developmental budget for youth players seems inevitable, which makes for a shallower talent pool and worse baseball. And it’s remarkable, that in a situation where an organization that pulled in $7.5 billion in revenue in 2012 is trying to cut costs by curbing the bonuses 16 year-old Dominicans are fighting tooth and nail to get, that we can restrict the outrage–just for the sake of exercise–to the category of “overall baseball quality” and still have a pretty thorough counterargument.

As for the White Sox, even with Marco Paddy’s help, it’d be delusional to claim that their Dominican academy and efforts to spread out elsewhere have made the leap yet from being promising seeds for the future to being the organization’s primary source of strength and their competitive advantage over the rest of the league. If international player development gets de-emphasized, there’s always Coop, invincible pitching staffs and deadline trades to fall back on.

It’s short-sighted to limit the scope to just how it affects our favorite team, but given the direction MLB is going, that’s where they would rather you look.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan