By Alan Schwarz
July 18, 2002
According to a Players Association official, major changes to baseball's player-development system could be arriving shortly.
The institution of a worldwide draft, the spirit of which was agreed to by both ownership and the union during negotiations the week following the All-Star Game, could carry along with it a transformation of club-run academies in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and elsewhere into one central system, the union official told Baseball America on the condition he not be identified.
International players would be developed at those facilities by Major League Baseball and made available to all clubs through the same June draft as those eligible now (players from the United States, Canada and U.S. territories).
These are the union's proposals in response to its agreeing to a single worldwide draft, the official said, but he described MLB as receptive to them. “Having centrally-run academies was something they seemed to like,” he said, “because it jibes with their ideas about competitive balance, and because it would probably save money.”
A worldwide draft has been the least-publicized of MLB's three major desires in a new Basic Agreement, the others being greater revenue sharing and a 50 percent tax on payrolls above $98 million. It also has been the only of those three issues on which both sides have come to any significant agreement.
Details were not yet hammered out, and the entire negotiating process remains fluid. (Major League Baseball officials could not be reached for comment by press time.) But the union official said, “If we get a Basic Agreement short of a conflagration, it's going to include major changes in player acquisition and development,” adding, “If we have a prolonged work stoppage, anyone who says he knows what the world will look like would be lying.”
The two sides reached accord on draft issues more quickly than most. In response to MLB's proposal for one June worldwide draft of 40 rounds (later reduced to 38), the union countered with separate drafts for domestic and international players of eight rounds apiece.
MLB, the union official said, expressed concerns about two drafts as being potentially costly (by creating another set of first-round picks), so the union's latest proposal included one draft of 16 rounds.
“I'm confident,” the official said, “that the Basic Agreement will not be held up by the number of rounds in the draft.” Other stickling issues remain, such as clubs' ability to trade draft picks–commissioner Bud Selig retains some concern that teams could be frittering away too many selections–but that appears to be another relatively minor hurdle.