As teams await word of whether there will be an international draft next year, the trainers in Latin America are on edge about what it means for their future in the game.
Some agents and trainers welcome an international draft, but many fear that a draft will put their livelihood at stake. Both team officials and player representatives have expressed concern that decisions about a draft are being made by people without experience in international scouting or international amateur player development, and argue that the amateur players being affected don’t have anyone looking out for their interests.
“You have the union negotiating these agreements,” said one trainer. “They’re negotiating on our behalf when they don’t have anything to do with us. They’re sacrificing us so that the people they do represent—major league players—get benefits. Why would they be allowed to negotiate what our future is?”
Major League Baseball won’t include the trainers in the discussion, although they’re hardly alone in that regard, as even teams are in the dark about what MLB has in the works with its international draft talks.
“Do you think they’re in touch with 16- and 18-year-olds, with kids playing in the (Dominican Summer League)? Of course not,” said a second trainer. “They don’t know what these kids are going through. They need someone fighting for them who’s going to be a player advocate, someone of these times, who knows what it costs to produce a kid and what the kids go through.
“The union doesn’t care because the Latin players are not the majority in the union, for one, and there might be a sentiment among the players who are already in the majors that say, ‘I paid my dues to get here. Let them do the same.’ They’re not worried about whether a 16-year-old or an 18-year-old gets paid what he deserves. The union sold out the kids.”
The trainers and agents who represent international amateur players realize that MLB wants to control its costs, which the signing bonus pools have been able to accomplish. Many of them don’t understand why the commissioner’s office would want to restrict players’ options of where they can sign now that MLB has already implemented a way to systematically lower signing bonuses. Money is usually the loudest factor in a signing, but players and trainers do take into consideration which organization is offering that money.
“There are academies here that are good academies, and there are academies that suck,” said the second trainer, who is in the Dominican Republic. “And kids know that. And trainers know that.”
Several trainers and agents also said they want what they believe is equitable treatment compared with amateur players born in the United States.
“Out of all the negotiations, the Latin draft was probably on the bottom of the union’s list,” said a third trainer. “It also has to be a fairness issue here at some point. I’m not saying equal because I understand they’re different situations, but it has to be a better balance.”
The slot values MLB is using for the 2013-14 signing period bonus pools may offer an indication of what might be on the way for an international draft. For the domestic draft, the slot value for the No. 1 overall pick is $7.79 million. The top international slot is $3.25 million. Before the bonus pools went into place on July 2, four players—Nomar Mazara ($4.95 million), Jairo Beras ($4.5 million), Michael Ynoa ($4.25 million) and Ronald Guzman ($3.45 million)—signed bigger bonuses, not counting Cubans.
“I’m not against the draft,” said the third trainer. “If you look at the draft, I’m not saying it should be equal, but a (42) percent difference between their first pick and our first pick? That’s a big difference. You’re talking about the best players in the world. I know it should be less, it’s a different market, but should it be that much of a difference?”
The disparity continues further down the talent pool as well. This year there are 55 slot values in the domestic draft of at least $1 million compared to 11 for international players. In the domestic draft there are 103 slot values of at least $500,000. The international side has 26 slot values of $500,000 or more, even though 33 players signed for at least $500,000 in 2011 (the last year before the bonus pools), not counting Cuban defectors or Andres Serrano’s $750,000 deal with the Cardinals that MLB terminated.
“If you look at the Latin American market, we’ve got guys winning Triple Crowns and Cy Youngs,” said the third trainer. “If you go through every major league roster, at least seven (international players) you see are going to be Hall of Famers. We are going through some wonderful times in Latin America, having important players in the World Series and in the All-Star Games, and look at how many Latin players have important contracts in baseball. It seems to me like it’s been a good investment for them, yet we’ve been penalized the last two years in bonuses.
“The evidence is there, that we have been a productive industry. Why should we keep getting penalized? They’re decreasing our opportunities and it’s unfair. I’d like someone to explain to us why. That’s all. I understand they want a better balance with the clubs. Whether they spend the money or not, that’s up to them. But why keep depreciating the value of the Latin market under the structure they’re going to?”