SBJ/March 18-24, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

As deadline nears, push to create global baseball draft intensifies

MLB and the MLB Players Association are feverishly trying to create a joint framework for the first international draft before a June 1 deadline.

An eight-person working committee made up of team, league and union executives are planning to meet regularly during the next 10 weeks to try to create a global amateur draft, or at least a second, international draft supplementing the current one each June that includes players from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

Such a global draft has been coveted for years by baseball management, notably MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, and holds the potential to radically alter how teams acquire and develop talent. But support among players historically has not been as universal, and the details to carry out such a draft are highly complex.

If a worldwide draft deal cannot be struck by June 1, tight restrictions would go into effect governing spending by teams on international amateur players. In the collective-bargaining agreement the league and union signed 16 months ago, teams were subjected to new international amateur signing pools. No deal by June to create a worldwide draft beginning in 2014 would significantly amplify the penalties for teams paying signing bonuses beyond their assigned pools.

The labor deal also created the draft working group, dubbed the International Talent Committee. Now that panel, after a period of more sporadic work, is racing the clock.

“There are plans to sit down and get serious about the negotiations this spring,” said David Prouty, MLBPA general counsel. “We are up against a deadline. If we don’t come up to an agreement, there will be more serious restrictions.”

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president for economics and league affairs and a co-director of the International Talent Committee, said there is a chance a draft deal could be struck before June 1. He declined to handicap the odds of it happening.

If there is an agreement, Manfred said, “the most likely outcomes [are] that you have a single, unitary draft, a worldwide draft, or you have the draft as it currently is and a second draft that would cover the rest of the world.”

“While players may not love the idea of an expanded draft, they may not love the expanded penalties, either,” he said. “It’s kind of a poison pill. I think we are going to have very serious talks leading up to this deadline.”

The new rules would impose signing limits sooner and for longer periods of time, and tax at a higher rate.

Without a draft deal, teams next year overspending their international signing caps by 15 percent or more will be subject to a 100 percent tax and a two-year restriction from signing any foreign amateur player to a bonus of more than $300,000. Even a 5 percent overspending by a club would limit an individual signing bonus to $500,000. Current international signing regulations assess only a 75 percent tax for less than a 5 percent overspend, building to a one-year prohibition on bonuses above $250,000 for overspending the pool by at least 15 percent.

The issues surrounding a worldwide draft are many and varied. Many clubs want a worldwide draft to help further level the competitive playing field within the league, give struggling teams the best chance to acquire top international talent, and create even more cost certainty with regard to those players. But the union, generally, has resisted measures that restrict or limit the ability of players to be paid at market value.

Furthermore, amateur baseball is vastly different from country to country around the world, ranging from highly organized leagues and programs in countries such as Japan to far more informal structures in countries like the Dominican Republic. Part of the draft negotiations center on giving all foreign players sufficient opportunities to showcase their talent. Also on the table is continuing efforts to eliminate recurring problems in some foreign countries with falsified player birth records.

The players “have expressed concerns about perceived abuses in the registration process for international players,” said Rick Shapiro, MLBPA senior adviser and a member of the International Talent Committee.

Manfred in an email said the player registration process is “completely legal and respectful of player rights.”

Joining Shapiro and Manfred on the panel: MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner, union staff members Stan Javier and Tony Clark, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman, and Kim Ng, MLB senior vice president of baseball operations.

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