Major League Baseball’s international market is dirty. It’s grimy. Heck, in plenty of cases IT’S ILLEGAL. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, are being investigated for several things in their recruitment, and eventual signing of several Cuban players. In March there was a report that some teams had come to agreements with players in the Dominican Republic as young as 12-years-old.

Last night, Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that some buscones/trainers in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are coming around on the idea of having an international draft being a realistic option. Their reasoning is that they are tired of players agreeing to deals up to three years before they are actually eligible to sign – which is when they are 16-years-old.

Of course, the issue here is quite fixable. And the rules are already in place that say that this is against the rules. Teams are not allowed to come to agreements with players before the signing day. Every single team, however, does. And every single team is doing it far in advance. It’s why we know where guys are signing a year, sometimes two years in advance of their actual signing date. Major League Baseball does not care. All that they care about is the money. It’s why the only time they ever step in is when someone is trying to skirt the rules on money, not to skirt the rules on deals.

I wrote about how it’s time to implement an international draft back in March in response to the teams agreeing to terms with 12-year-olds. There are some merits to having a draft – teams can’t come to agreements with players in advance because other teams can select them. That would help alleviate a few of the dirty, grimy, and slimy things that happen. But that’s just a small aspect of what makes the whole situation a mess.

But the other side is what happens with drafts: The owners use it as a way to just keep saving money. They already set up rules to cut back on how much money could be spent in the market a few years ago. For baseball as a whole, this seems to be what matters: saving money. They don’t really seem to care much, again, as a whole, about the clear exploitation of children.

I’m not really sure what the best answer to the problem is. I wish I did. But things need to change, and they need to change tomorrow.

8 Responses

  1. Jami Sanderson

    Hey Doug, nice article. My husband and I have been a host family for Reds players since the 2016 season. This season, due to the Blue Wahoos affiliate change, we now have Twins players. Most of the players have been international. I think I counted that we’ve had 20 players or so at last count over the past four seasons. Of those, about half are DR players, the most of the rest are from Venezuela and a few have been from the Dutch Islands (Aruba/Curaçao) and Puerto Rico. (Plus we’ve had a couple of US players). There are exceptions to this, but as a generalization, there is a huge range of difference in education between the players of these different countries, with players from the DR being at a major disadvantage to the others. This is not to say that they are not intelligent, but rather that were spotted as talent and put into baseball programs at a very young age (under 10), to the exclusion of their formal education. So many have not had a chance to complete their education.

    So this opinion is mine, and some will find fault with it, but here goes. I GET IT. I understand why an international family would want to sign their 12-year old to a contract. I am not saying it’s right, but may be their family’s only ticket out of poverty. For many international players, beisbol is plan A, B and C.

    Only 1/25 players will make it to the “bileeg.” The boys undergo physical issues, low pay, and loneliness for years before he gets his “shot.” OR that he will be washed up and out at age 20.

    Maybe a draft would be better? Possibly more regulated with less under-handed dealings? I don’t know.

    Here’s what I have observed: the Twins farm system seems to really care about educating their international players for their life AFTER baseball. They have a high school program in their DR facility, so that while the boys are in baseball camp, they are also getting a High School diploma. Further, they send an English teacher around to the teams and she gives them lessons in everyday situations they would encounter, like how to do post-game interviews, and register for online classes, career exploration, etc. I’ve met her and am impressed that she cares and wants to know how they are doing.

    So, not being sure whether an International Draft would eliminated the problems of early signings, I would say that all of the teams should make it a point to take on education, particularly of their Latin players.

    We root for all of our “sons” to succeed in life, whether they are able stay in baseball long-term or not.

    • Spank me Todd

      I live about 3 miles away from Ft Myers Miracles Stadium. It really is top notch. I’ll add they give all their players the opportunity to be successful in America. Just the basics, from learning English to getting a drivers license. The Twins are a first class organization. I wish more teams did this kind of thing.

  2. Tom

    Doug I think you’re right that a draft will correct the fostering of relationships as early as 12. In fact it should completely destroy that aspect. That alone is good reason.

    From the MLB side, they should care about competitive balance. Being good at courting 12 year olds in Latin America should not be a separating factor that places LA, SD, TX, NY and CHI above CI, MN, TOR, PHI, etc. It seems clear that when a team like SD wants to really dominate, they completely tip the scales in their favor ending up with a huge share of the talent. There isn’t a competitive remedy at that point for any other team.

    Whatever the wage issues are with MLB ownership and draft prospecting are basically secondary considerations from my standpoint. Perhaps congress can step in to help amateur players with some kind of anti trust policy. I think the MLB hurts itself when it hurts the lower levels of the game.

  3. Michael Smith

    @tom

    Sadly congress sided with MLB and gave them an exemption to wage laws.

  4. Eric

    Doug, I’m torn over how to view the Reds’ performance in international scouting. It seems as if to get the best players you have to do things that are immoral at best and illegal at worst. The Reds obviously don’t have a great track record, but should we be critical of international performance in the way we can look at the draft performance given all of these issues?

    • Doug Gray

      It’s a messy situation. Here’s what we do know, at least right now: The Reds have been absolutely beyond terrible on the international front for the last decade plus when it comes to signing players and turning them into even useful Major Leaguers. The most successful player they’ve signed from the last decade internationally as a teenager has been who? Wandy Peralta?

      What we also know: The Reds haven’t been in trouble for anything related to “illegal” activities, either by law or by MLB. But, it’s quite clear that they’ve been among the other 29 teams in breaking the rules with early agreements. While they haven’t been overly active in the top prospect market on the international scene like many others have – we’ve known about all kinds of their signings well in advance. We knew about Alfredo Rodriguez, and the price, like 7 months before it happened. We knew about Cristian Olivo and Miguel Hernandez months before they were allowed to happen. We heard about their deal with Michel Triana in February and he’s not eligible to sign until July. Their hands might be a little cleaner than others, as far as we know, and that is indeed good, but they are out there with the rest of teams talking to 14-year-old kids about contracts. They are all doing it. Every last team.

      • Eric

        I’ll be very happy when/if an international draft happens and it’s more above board, so long as the teens get paid something closer to actual value. I just don’t know that I want to see the Reds do what the Braves/Pirates even if it means they would be better.