Yoan Moncada’s signing marks controversy in MLB amateur Process


Cuban 19-year-old Yoan Moncada completed a celebrated courtship last week when he signed with the Boston Red Sox, receiving $31.5 million in up-front bonus money. This bonus easily marks the largest bonus in professional baseball history, and it has sparked debate over amateur signing reform in MLB. With Rob Manfred taking over as commissioner, the responsibility of creating a more equitable system may be the most underappreciated need of his regime, as it speaks to baseball and ethical issues around the globe.

Baseball has three very distinct systems for acquiring players that are first-time eligible for major league contracts. First is the Rule 4 draft, also known as the amateur draft or first-year player draft. This is for American and Canadian amateurs, typically 18-22 years old, and goes by round in reverse order of regular season standings from the year before. There have been a myriad of wrinkles added to the draft, which can all be read about here. A second method is for players who have signed professional contracts in foreign leagues, such as Jose Abreu (Cuba), Yu Darvish (Japan) and Jung-ho Kang (Korea), a posting fee may be required to negotiate a buyout of the player’s other professional contract. Posting fees are blind-auction, all up-front to the current team that holds the player’s contract. When the Rangers posted $51.7 million for Darvish prior to the 2012 season, baseball created a hard cap for these posting fees to attempt to maintain competitive balance in the signing of these players.

Yu Darvish commanded so much on the open market in 2012 that MLB changed the way they do business surrounding foreign professionals.

The last method is for international amateurs, primarily in Latin America and the Carribean. Players who turn 16 on or before June 1st of the calendar year are eligible for bonus offers from MLB teams to sign minor league contracts. Teams have a soft cap of $3 million for signing bonuses of these players, and every dollar over $3 million gets taxed at 100%. In addition to the tax, penalties for following years are enforced, and get more stringent the more a team exceeds the cap.

Since Moncada still had his amateur status, he was eligible for the international amateur free agent signing policies. The Red Sox did not need to pay a posting fee, but could only be signed by teams using their $3 million for international draft pool money. With Moncada receiving $31.5 million, the cost to the Red Sox with tax was $63 million, all up front.

Let’s put this number into perspective: Only 23 free agents have signed contracts with total values greater than this figure of the entirety of the past 5 seasons. The second highest bonus to an amateur was earlier this offseason, when 17-year-old Cuban SP Yoan Lopez received $8.25 million from the Diamondbacks (costing the team $13.5 million). Stephen Strasburg received $7.5 million in his bonus in 2009, and the bonus coupled with his $15.1 million deal for four years marks the most lucrative amateur signing for an American citizen. (Since 2009, the MLB has put in place even more stringent bonus pools for the North American amateur draft). Moncada’s figure is the largest number ever shelled out for an amateur player, and may stay that way if rule changes come into play. It is also the largest cost paid out for any player in one calendar year.

Strasburg was the last of a draft era – where signing bonuses were larger than what they are today.

This deal represents a perfect storm of issues all coming to a head, some of which are not baseball related. First, Moncada is a tremendous talent, a potential all-star prospect, and is 19 years old. He is by far the oldest of the amateur signees from the Caribbean who have made multi-million bonuses. This means he is more physically developed, and it is easier to see his awesome tools. He is more of a sure thing. So, why is he so much older? In case you haven’t heard, foreign policy between the US and Cuba has drastically changed in the past months. With recent changes to those politics, it is no longer a defection and abandonment of your culture to pursue the MLB dream (some defection stories can be incredible). He hit the market at the perfect age for money, where he has shown top-prospect promise, all while still being younger than many U.S. prospects.

For high success, high revenue teams, it can be very difficult to acquire good young talent. You draft late in the first round, missing out on can’t miss prospects through the draft. Baseball’s revenue sharing and luxury tax makes every dollar spent on MLB talent even more costly for teams like the Dodgers and Yankees. Teams are trying to find ways to get young price controlled players. The Dodgers did it by paying Dan Haren’s contract for the Marlins. The Yankees seemed to realize this, and signed every amateur they could this offseason. The Red Sox don’t need Moncada, in a personnel sense: they have all their infield locked up for several years. They are just acquiring young talent in a cost effective way, like any good organization should do. The Yankees did something similar this offseason.

At first glance, this move seems anything but cost effective. With all the tax and penalties, how can you justify $63 million to a minor league shortstop? A glaring truth for the big-spenders in MLB is the lack of fear of the penalties. A new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is coming up in December of 2016. Sure, the Sox can’t spend on international players for 2 seasons. Within 1 year, the system probably will be overhauled anyway. Changes could come to the format as early as next year, rendering punishments for over-spenders moot.

The big debate comes with what should be changed to the system. Most people agree that spending 4 times more on Moncada is not equitable, but there is no easy or just fix. The most popular choice in the MLB front office – met with severe resistance from MLB’s player’s association – is an international amateur draft, which Manfred wants to implement as soon as 2016. There are huge concerns in the transfer here. What to do about all the Cuban-born players who are older, wanting a shot at the majors? Or, what about the next Yu Darvish? Exceptions will still need to be made for foreign-born, already-professional players. Where do those exceptions end?

Another concern with the international draft is having two separate amateur drafts. This would heavily reward poor teams, far past a level of reasonable competitive balance. The worst team would hypothetically get first pick at two different elite talent pools. Some then vote for one universal player draft, which has many of its own concerns. The age difference between 16 (minimum age in international pool) and 18 (minimum in American pool) creates immense physical discrepancies – far greater than the difference between high school and college players- and some questionable ethics regarding foreign- born talent. Do you change the age to a universal 18? And it is easy to forecast modern economic imperialism when it comes to this player draft; if the CBA is not explicit, this system could result in teams trying to get cheap foreign born talent, because they know they could lure a impoverished 16-year from Latin America far easier with less bonus money. The ethics of the universal player draft could get very questionable in a matter of a few years.

Ultimately, the largest concern is how inequitable the draft pool money is in comparison to the value of the drafted players. As Moncada showed, amateurs on the free market are worth way more than the draft bonus slot would indicate. The #1 pick in the US would make tons more if he were a free agent. So, that brings us to abolishing the draft altogether, and adapting a system similar to European soccer leagues. That has the possibility of killing competitive balance, practically ensuring higher revenue teams get all the best young talent.

To ameliorate this, Jeff Cameron of Fangraphs proposes an inverse cap on player spending, with the teams that spend more at the big league level having less to spend at the amateur level. While I love this principle, in actuality it would run into the problem of bad contracts: the Phillies would never be able to get out of their current hole, because of the terrible contracts they have signed. It would be a revolving door of aging players getting paid too much, since you would never be able to spend on young talent. In addition, drafts seem to be an essential part of the American sports experience, and resistance to a pseudo-open market would be severe.

Lastly, there is an idea of making the minor leagues independent, but still heavily subsidized by MLB. If we gave a couple years for player development, say until 20 years old or so, the good prospects would float to the top more reliably, and then they could hit an open market (or be drafted), making the bonus money go to the more deserving player. This is similar to the hockey/NHL minor league system. This runs into the competitive balance issue, as well as getting into trouble with young players who advance through the minors quickly, such as Bryce Harper.

Moncada – along with his 6’1″ frame, monster athletic ability and potent switch-hitting bat – may forever change the way business is done in Latin American baseball.

Ultimately, this issue needs to be about paying the players fair market value, while keeping competitive balance as a priority. I don’t think the universal first year draft is necessarily a bad thing, I am just concerned that the bonus pools will not be expanded enough to represent market price for players. A drafted player has so much less bargaining power than a player on the open market; MLB knows this, and wants to keep the cost of these players low for business. If we can set a priority of higher bonuses for drafted players, and be quick to adapt some of the nuances of the draft, a more equitable draft can maintain balance in the game, all while supporting a global economy, rather than colonizing it.



  1. One alternative not mentioned is to abolish the amateur draft. Thus making all eligible players, foreign or domestic, free agents. Players are free to negotiate with any team. It circumvents the myriad of obstacles in an international draft, eg NPB and other professional leagues inclusion in a draft, and puts North American players on an equal footing with their foreign counterpart.

    I think Commish office should take a very serious look at professional baseball in Puerto Rico before it unilaterally enforces an international draft. The once rich and vibrant baseball proving ground is now in shambles. Many feel it’s collapse is due to inclusion in the daft.


  2. Having a percentage of the revenue paid into a pool that pays players based on production or “work” is another option.

    You have a lot of options to figure out in terms of who gets paid for what but it could eliminate money as a relevant factor in the quality of a team while maintaining a fair division of income between the owners and players and well as between the players themselves.


  3. While I have yet to hear of a satisfactory explanation for the actual crash of Puerto Rico as a feeder system, Carlo does have several points that merit consideration. Making everybody GO THROUGH the draft process to enter into Major League baseball seems a little bit difficult. But if you abolish the complete drafting process AND implement a HARD CAP for player signings for a 12-month period, based on factors of positioning in a worst-to-first order and spending on Major League (and maybe AAA) level contracts, I see a workable system developing. There’d still be some shenanigans, but no system would be immune to folks trying to poke holes through it. The interesting thing about trying to calc a cap would be in making sure teams still had enough money for the OTHER players they need to wear their rookie league and A class uniforms. Maybe a cap of 90 percent on any one player. Maybe even less. What this would do would to reward players with their choice of money or preferred team and less money. But the REST of the class after the top 150 or so, would discover their market value would amount to peanuts, unless teams decided to forego pitching the top 10 percent and hope to hit a home run through more second and third level guys where they now could compete financially for.

    I’ve always been in favour of a complete world draft, including older players from other leagues (everybody’s coming from a league SOMEWHERE). Each player declares his intention to become draft-enabled. MLB does due diligence and certifies the player. On the list he goes. For up to three years, after which be becomes a free agent, able to pick his destination. Draft moves to January 2 since having it in mid-summer really doesn’t have much practicality. For all but a handful, non summer signees actually play meaningful baseball for the organization until the following spring anyway, Keep the draft at the current 90 players selected, but this combines the continental and international drafts. Fewer kids will be coming from the International territories in their first year. Might take them until their third year to actually get drafted. Which is fine. Cuz MLB would have to open up academies in the various nations to handle the undrafted, draft-enabled kids. They’d get taught english and some educational basics they are clearly not getting now, which will mean less culture shock upon arriving in America. And they’ll be fed. And by fed, I don’t mean McDonald’s, I mead actual dietary specialist recommended meals. There will be some culling that has to go on there as every kid from an impoverished situation would want a cot, meal and baseball training, regardless of actual ability. That would be the main issue with this whole plan. But the result would be a better-served MLB club when the player does come States-side.

    But, since this would cost MLB some real dollars AND enforce co-operation by helping provide the baseball coaching, I just can’t see the barons doing the right thing. In the absence of common sense, abolishing the draft is a better solution than what we have now. Make the cap hard, though. Given penalties for over-spending has proven NO barrier at all for those teams rich enough (currently) to laugh at the penalties. And the hard cap HAS to include all bonuses presumed to have to be given. That’s vitally important.


    1. International draft serves ownership not the membership. Players get hurt, owners get richer.

      The infrastructure and investment in Latin America and elsewhere would cease. The “academy” system would no longer offer an advantage to clubs and would likely disappear. Hence, the possibility of finding, developing and signing young talent would be seriously hampered.

      Puerto Rico is a good example. As recently as ’08 they pleaded to be let out of the MLB draft. Why, because it has negatively impacted BB in the country. For the first time in its history, which dates to 1938, the Puerto Rican Baseball League does not have a team based in San Juan, the capital ! In 2007 Puerto Rico Winter League announced it was suspending play after 69 years because of financial problems. Dr. David Bernier, the island’s Secretary of Sport, believes the fall of the Winter League in Puerto Rico and its inclusion in the MLB Draft are related.

      Some perspective. There was a time when Puerto Rico was as fertile a harvesting ground for MLB as any. Roberto Clemente, Iván Rodríguez, Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda, Juan González, to name a few are all products of the pre draft era in Purto Rico’s BB history. Why invest in Puerto Rico if 70 miles west and 500 miles south, in Dominican Republic and Venezuela respectively, One can invest directly in the detection and development without going through the Draft process?

      According to Bernier, “The investment in Puerto Rico is not a cost-effective one for Major League teams and has lost charm for the recruiter. This reality is substantiated by the decrease in numbers of players selected through the Draft and active in the Major Leagues. For example, in 1989, 47 players were signed, compared to only 21 in 2003. This creates a domino effect, less players at the top, less enthusiasm at the base. In the same way, organizations like our winter league, which could be associated with Major League teams in order to strengthen its structure, have suffered from the post Draft.” http://m.mlb.com/news/article/2204904/

      After decades of populating major league rosters with All-Stars at every position, Puerto Rico had only 20 players on Major League Baseball rosters on opening day in 2012. Only two made the All-Star team. (By contrast, the 1997 All-Star Game included eight Puerto Ricans.) Bottom line, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

      Does the draft level the playing field? To some extent it does, why else would players like Harper and Chapman try to circumvent it. On the other hand one must also ask at what cost? If Puerto Rico is any example, the cost has devastated BB in that country. Do you wind up cooking a goose that has laid many golden eggs?

      Cost control is precisely what the international draft hinges on. Owners want it, players don’t. North America want’s it the rest of the world does not. In a general sense the draft is viewed as controlling and limiting players. Free agents can negotiate with every team in baseball, while draftees can negotiate with only one, which drives down prices considerably. The time is ripe to truly level the playing field, abolish the draft. All eligible players 16 and older are free agents. They can negotiate with any and all teams. The bonus disparity currently afforded foreign players would cease.

      One reason that many scouts and baseball people in Latin America worry about a draft: they worry that it would cap the number of players who get a chance to play professional baseball, erode interest and infrastucture in the game. In fact, many Puerto Ricans believe that is exactly what has happened in their country since 1990, when the amateur draft expanded to include Puerto Rico and Canada.


      1. Carlo,

        A passionate response and obviously informed. However, I differ on the conclusions to be drawn from the facts thus far as presented.

        Let me start with a small personal experience. I had the pleasure of meeting Carlos Delgado, when he came to my town for a signing run at a local comic book store (one where I write the company software). I enjoyed the time spent with Carlos and he so charmed my little niece that she was a perfect little angel for weeks afterward. He told me some of his thoughts on Puerto Rican baseball and other matters. So, some of my thoughts are influenced by that conversation, now almost a decade old, and some from my general reading on the matter. it is definitely possible that I have come the wrong conclusions, but here they are.

        There has been a malaise in African-American participation in the sport that closely resembles that of Puerto Rico’s. The assumed cause is that players from that community (and assumed by some mainland Americans, in yours) is that baseball is no longer getting the best athletes. That big money in basketball and football, with quicker paths TO that money, are steering the top athletes away from baseball. And I know Puerto Rican basketball has been on an upward trend for a long while now. So the linkage certainly seems reasonable.

        There’s also the bigger pond theory that leads to smaller numbers as a percentage. Where once there were a lot of stars coming from the limited non-white sector, now there are still about the same number of stars in real terms, but now playing in a bigger pond with countries from elsewhere in the Caribbean and in South America now contributing in ever-increasing numbers. Plus Japan, Korea and Australia. It’s getting harder to stand out because there simply more star-quality players to compete with, in a much bigger pool of talent.

        The draft does not have causal linkage with teams going bankrupt and disappearing. At least not in a way that has been proved to me. Could it be A cause? Sure. How much of a cause, I’m not willing to cede much beyond being a small part of the problem. In Canada, we have lost a fair number of professional teams. But the game is probably at it’s healthiest point in this country that it has ever been. The pro teams left Canada because operating one that is playing in a cross-border league is a gigantic pain in the butt. The border customs, the lack of a stable exchange rate, the shortened season for most of our country east of the Rockies …. it all goes towards erecting a hurdle. A hurdle that is currently insurmountable to all but a few hobbiest owners who don’t mind losing a FEW thousand here and there. Most are in with the hope that the way Junior hockey has suddenly turned into a big profitable business will transfer into baseball.

        But right now, there are more pro BASKETBALL teams in the country then there are pro baseball teams.

        The worst thing in all of baseball are the boscones that latch on to young kids in the Dominican or Venezuela and take a finder’s fee for finding a talent likely to have found their way to some baseball training camp anyway. And the way the coyotes have made player-trafficking in baseball profitable is also embarrassing. Kids need to be protected, plain and simple. Anything that takes a bite out of the non-drafted system of pimps selling kids has to be a better alternative.

        I’m not immune to the fact that agents start talking to kids about hockey careers here in Canada as soon as they turn 12 or 13. Bobby Orr, one of the greatest players ever to play the game, is now an agent. And, while complaining publicly about having to do it, has been in the homes of kids who should have a 9 pm curfew, pitching his services to the player’s parents. So, enacting a draft won’t make the pimp life-style disappear.

        But baseball DOES have some opportunities here. They can set up regional academies that shred the veil of legitimacy for the pimps and expose the young players to the best that baseball can bring them … coaching, competition, good nutrition, teaching English in a group with their peers, rather than force-feeding English on them in Rookie Leagues. KEEPING the players in their own countries until they are physically, emotionally and truly ready to come to America.

        And don’t get me wrong. Baseball would benefit too. Fewer lottery ticket losses in the millions. More true Can’t Miss prospects, drafted with more certain knowledge of their talents than when giving life-changing money to a sixteen year old with stars in his eyes. And yes, there’s a leavening of talent. Not every kid wants to come to Toronto. Or Milwaukee. Sometimes, you have to let them discover what a great city Toronto or Milwaukee is. So, yeah, I’m a draft guy. And I’m a realist. The draft system was designed to stymie the Yankees. It failed. Modifications were made. The Yankees and The Red Sox laughed. it’s only money, a small fraction of their profits. So, yes, more mods have to be made so that teams can’t SPEND themselves past poor management. Money doesn’t guarantee you success. But it goes a long ways towards ensuring long term success with even mediocre management. And for teams on the opposite end of the financial rainbow, ONE poor decision on a trade or a contract can doom the team to the lower-echelons for the better part of a decade.

        Yes, the owners of baseball teams are usually pretty well off. But the interesting thing is that most make little or no profit on their teams. Sure, accountants can make that bottom line anything they want and many of the teams co-mingle their baseball teams with other operations, thus being able to show a loss of amazing proportions due to little or no TV money coming into the baseball team coffers. But the reality is, that the same money that these people and companies invest in baseball could almost assuredly make MORE being invested elsewhere. And the truly big payday, as even such a dufus as Frank McCourt found out to his delight, comes from SELLING the team. That’s right, the money comes from selling out. Good or bad. Big sale, Small sale. Bankrupt sale. Cashing out is where the money is.

        This huge world-wide ecosystem is too complex to come down to something as simple as a draft or the lack of one. And I wish Puerto RIco was shipping Carlos Delgados to Toronto yearly. I adored the guy. Eventually we WILL have a successor Puerto Rico can be proud of. And it’s because the Greek-Canadian kid general manager will draft him. And hopefully soon.

        Did I prove my point to you? Probably not. I still plead ignorance (although I remain curious) to anything that I missed of a factual nature. But as far as a conclusion go, I’m accepting that we disagree, as two good men occasionally do.

        Thanks for your reply to my reply. I enjoyed it.


  4. Civil people can always agree to disagree. Allows for reasoned discourse.

    TV revenue has done more to “level” the playing field than most MLB efforts combined. While the small vs. large market disparity still exists, the gap has narrowed. MLB’s new national TV contracts with ESPN, Fox, and Turner will more than double the amount of money each team received from those three networks. Where the previous contract paid teams an average of $25.53 million each per year, next year’s contract will pay teams an average of $51.67 million per year. An amount equal to some teams entire payroll!

    MLB welfare, aka revenue sharing imo, has been a colossal failure. Many, certainly not all, small market owners have lined their pockets and made a mockery of the system. The proceeds rarely translating to the product on the field. It simply creates a welfare class of teams that can turn significant profits by keeping payroll down, knowing that if revenues fall, they’ll cash a big check from the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs, the Dodgers. You may recall the Pirates snafu in 2007-08. Or the repeated sham perpetrated by Miami ownership, an ownership group that values steady profits over on-field success and the risk that pursuing the latter would entail. But i digress,

    Selig lauded the $9B in revenue the MLB saw last year. In his estimation the rise should continue into the foreseeable future. The game appears healthy and growing.

    The irony is the top revenue teams are not always the most profitable. More resources are devoted to the product on the field, rather than hiding it via creative accounting. With so much money available it’s time ownership relinquish the quest for cost control via the draft. Pay the North American players on par with their Latin American counterparts. This can only be accomplished with serious change to present system. Abolishing the draft is a good place to start. Eliminate limitations on the rights of athletes to choose their employers in a way we never would accept on anyone else.

    In the current draft system, a player has absolutely no say in his place of employment for roughly a decade. Eliminate the draft, and you give players at least one moment in their lives as professional ballplayers in which they have control of their career. You have the right to choose your employer. That’s a pretty basic right enjoyed by almost all Americans, but one that has been denied pro athletes for too long.


    1. Carlo,

      The rights of players to choose their place of employment is one old saw I hate to see re-visited. First, nobody is forcing anybody to play professional baseball in the MLB system, which includes very low-paying internships for kids JUST OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL. VERY few businesses are taking on high school grads these days. And what if the huge corporation you choose to go to work for decides it’s best to transfer you to another branch of the company. Say for instance, you got to work for Xerox in Texas and then get a transfer to Rochester NY. Do you really have the ability to say NO I won’t go, without the company saying fine, don’t let your backside hit the door on your way to your next job? Sure you CAN quit and go work elsewhere, but it won’t be with Xerox. Companies do a LOT of this. And yes, they usually talk it over with the employee. But you don’t ever have the right to say to any company, “I will work for you and in this location.” Doesn’t happen.

      Secondly, team sports are a unique business. They are the only business where trying to achieve near monopoly level market share is counter-productive. Teams NEED other teams to play with. George Steinbrenner famously opted to move forward with the NEW Yankee stadium when he complained about a small crowd for a Kansas City game, a team he helped spend into insignificance. Sports is expected to have an outcome that isn’t known before the start. That’s why we root for the home team AND the under dog. We all hate the guys on the top of the pile unless we ARE the guys at the top. Then the whole city or country turns out pride swelled to the limit.

      The Yankees could PROBABLY fill the stadium for an 162-game series with Boston for the right to play the Dodgers. But the Dodgers would play who to get ready for the World Series? Maybe he can play the freshly profligate Lauria’s team for all the games from April to October.

      It’s this incestuous NEED for qualified opposition while still trying to crush them that allowed politicians to give them extra-legal protection. You simply cannot run team sports as a traditional business. It is why MOST leagues that have started since the early nineties are actually one corporation with several branches, just like Xerox. They are, after all called franchises. I won’t bore you with the limitations franchisees find themselves saddled with.

      I was a sports reporter in a different life (at least it feels like a different life after all these years). I worked every weekend for THREE STRAIGHT YEARS at one point. I liked my job!! No, I loved it. Played absolute havoc with my love life (didn’t exist). Hated getting up early in the morning once a week to proofread the weekly newspaper at the presses, which were located in a different town. And I spent Christmases eating arena hot dogs, drinking soda and watching little kids play Silver Stick hockey. Didn’t make a car-load of money. But those were the conditions for the job I wanted. So, I did them and didn’t complain until I loooked up and I was in my 30’s. Then i stopped being willing to pay the price to do my job.

      Young men and young men-to-be are offered a chance to enter the MLB system. Their choice. After that and through their internship and first few years of probation, the player still gets no right of choosing where. Finally, after a LOT LESS than my 15 years of internship turned full-time job as a sports reporter, the athlete gets to pick where and for how long they will work with some branch. And unless a no-trade agreement is in place, then he doesn’t have any more rights to refuse a transfer as my hypothetical Xerox worker. He CAN quit and start a new employment in any line of work he chooses. It just won’t be MLB. Curt Flood paid for his demands with SOME changes in the law … and his career. The average worker changes avocations three times in his or her lives. So choice DOES get made.But it ain’t absolute choice.

      Nobody has the RIGHT to a job in MLB with a team of his choosing until he’s paid his dues. Talent speeds up the oncoming right to choose. And some, like Moncada, certainly get a huge jump on what the Sox hope is a quick path on the road to MLB stardom. But that right to choose the Sox wasn’t in the best interest of the business of baseball. He becomes yet one more jewel buried in the Sox treasure chest. Good for them for acquiring the asset. But to suggest if was FAIR (which is almost written into every sports’ mission statement), is wrong. But it was right within the context of the current set of rules. Those rules will change in the fall of 2016.

      Anybody willing to undergo the process will have the right to try and participate in the MLB system. That’s the right to apply. NOT the right to demand. That’s the way it is now and that’s the way it will be in 2017’s season, barring a strike/lockout.

      I’ve exercised my rights to change jobs four times in my life and had the decision made for me once. Those were my rights within the framework of the businesses I chose to operate in. But at no point did I feel like I was in a strong enough position to demand anything. I loved ALL of my jobs, including the one I am in currently … a self-employed programmer. I like my boss in that job [G].

      Not every right encoded in the American Bill of Rights is absolute. You can’t yell Fire! in a theater, for example when talking about the cherished right to free speech. You can’t make somebody testify if the person on trial is their spouse. Otherwise you are compelled to testify or give a legally-correct answer as to why not (self-incriminate and all that). Different rights for different folks. There are others. Not going to turn this already long opus into a book. But the point I try to make is that the word rights gets tossed around a LOT. And especially in the context of rights in America. But I don’t believe any player has absolute rights to demand place and compensation. Never have, never will.

      Otherwise, everything else in your reply is well stated. The owners, as a group, have been idiots who couldn’t work out a reasonable distribution of the money they’ve got. And might not ever. The NFL figured it out, on their way to taking over as the premier sport in the land. But it took BIG intelligence from the Mara family in New York to see a future so bright that it would toss in the TV income in New York with the income from Green Bay and other such challenged local TV markets to make the deal happen. Co-operation of a legal kind remains available to baseball. They just have to figure it out. Make the welfare teams pay to a minimum floor. That’s rule one in any socialization of the TV money. All of your examples are germane to that conversation.

      Of course, the numbers now make sharing in baseball all the less possible. What the cable companies are tossing a the sports leagues to save themselves (take away live sports from cable and it dies next week, the internet having finally won supremacy. The cable companies would become mere ISPs at that point). There’s STILL a great divide in money, not the least of which is here in Canada where money comes in as Canadian bucks, while lots go out as American dollars. And the local team, Toronto, is actually OWNED by a cable company. Good luck separating cable rights values from the Rogers accountants. Conceptually, the team is making PEANUTS compared to the Dodgers, Sox and Yankees. But how much is bookkeeping and how much is the other factors I’ve mentioned plus ones I overlooked.

      The (inter)national TV contract means everybody could have bid on James Shields. Isn’t it sad that all that extra money is only worth a pitcher (probably) in decline but still worth 20M+ a year? That’s not leveling the field yet.

      I don’t watch games where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, even when it’s ‘my’ team doing the hammering. That’s probably due in part to my career as a non-biased (yeah, I laugh at that one too) reporter. While I’m willing to admit I rooted for the home side just a little bit, I never got to the raving lunatic stage aka Bill Simmons Syndrome. Gimme a great contest between two matched teams and I’m right there lying on the couch downing sugar-free, sodium free Tangerine soda and chomping rice cakes (That’s for my docs, if they are reading. It’s really Classic Coca-Cola and Chips [G]). Give me Los Angeles against any downtrodden team and I read a book.

      I need, WE need, a system of fairness. I’m open to suggestions on how that gets accomplished. None of the ones, including unfettered access to all, seems to hold out promise to do that. That’s why I think the draft abolishment and capping money to new entriees into the MLB system is worth considering. And I think a properly constructed world entry draft is also worth considering.

      But please, think of the end goal, not the illusory rights that you think exist and don’t.


  5. “Nobody has the RIGHT to a job in MLB with a team of his choosing until he’s paid his dues. Talent speeds up the oncoming right to choose. And some, like Moncada, certainly get a huge jump on what the Sox hope is a quick path on the road to MLB stardom.”

    MLB players have a choice I agree. Due to the talent many choose to play professional BB. Very few qualify. I think it’s fair to say those that stick for more than three years at ML level are an elite class athlete. ALL players coming through the draft “pay their dues” in the form of servitude to team which has control of them for almost 10yrs. Arbitration may offer incremental raises, but no where market value as arbitrators may not use salaries (comps) exceeding one annual service group above the Player’s annual service group.

    Moncada is what set the entire fire storm ablaze. Many believe it’s blatantly unfair for a 19 yr old with no ML experience to be paid on par with MLB veteran greats. Why shouldn’t Trout, Harper, Stasburg or Zimmerman be afforded the same luxury? I think they should ALL get paid, not just the IFA’s who happen to be exempt from draft.

    The most often heard objection to abolish the draft is the competitive advantage presumably afforded the large market teams. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs offers a workable solution. He is not the first to suggest abolishing the draft, nor I suspect the last. Cameron suggests and I agree (it’s one of several workable solutions) take $200 million from the revenue sharing pool and redistribute it for the purpose of creating budgets for yearly amateur talent acquisition. The draft is eliminated all together, and instead, a worldwide unsigned player auction would be held each summer. College kids, high school kids, international kids – all of them would be eligible for open bidding, where agents could negotiate the best deal they could get for their client with any team that is interested.

    Each team would be capped at spending no more than allotted through the revenue sharing pool, which would be based on a two year moving average of their ranking in winning percentage. So, for example, the $200 million could be split up like this.

    Average Win% over last two years, descending order.

    Teams 1-5: $2 million each
    Teams 6-10: $3 million each
    Teams 11-15: $5 million each
    Teams 16-20: $8 million each
    Teams 21-25: $10 million each
    Teams 26-30: $12 million each

    The top tier teams who have been winning recently would receive small sums of money that would essentially take them out of the running for the premium talents. Given that the teams that finished in the bottom half would likely be willing to bid ~60-70% of their budgets on the top guys available, the Strasburgs of the world would probably command bonuses in the $7 or $8 million range, which the winning teams would not be able to match.

    Teams would have flexibility to pursue the types of players they wanted, which would allow for more efficient team building strategies. The system would still funnel the best players to the teams that needed help the most, while also simultaneously ensuring that a massive part of the revenue sharing money did not go into the pockets of the owners. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/abolish-the-draft/

    Far from perfect, but a point of departure. Ownership is afforded some semblance of cost control and players enjoy the benefits afforded their free agent foreign counterparts can be achieved without actually having a draft. A firm spending cap for the entire league — covering both domestic and foreign talent coming into the game — fairly easily accomplishes the first goal, while the second can be achieved by creating an uneven playing field through spending pools rather than through draft pick allocation. Those spending pools just have to have firm limits.


    1. And with that, we have come to an accord, Carlo. Thanks for the spirited and informative discussion. As I’ve said, I think fixing what’s broke, which is the current talent entry system, is worthy of discussion and NOT ruling out any potentially better solutions. Your proposal qualifies as something reasonable folks can agree would be an actual improvement on what we have currently. I’ve also read Cameron’s work and Dave also puts a lot of thought into his proposals (He’s had several).

      One of these days we’ll all wake up to the news that intelligence has broken out amongst the team owners and they’ve agreed to a smarter, more even-keeled entry system with fewer holes to roll money wads through. Sure, certain owners will arrive at the press conference with sore shoulders from having their arms twisted. But this will eventually come to pass.

      Let’s play ball.



      1. Play ball indeed! That is what’s most important. Preserving the game we all love.

        I’ve read other iterations from several authors, all revolve around a central pool, hard caps, and inverse finish order. The differences in the small details.

        I hope you are correct and we wake up sooner rather than later.


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