Remember last week, when we learned that Major League Baseball was trying to impose an international draft on foreign-born amateur players in its CBA negotiations with the MLB Players’ Association? Well, it turns out that the players and the trainers of the Dominican Republic aren’t prepared to take that lying down.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports that a boycott by those players and trainers has forced MLB to cancel its Dominican showcase that was scheduled for today and Thursday. With the best players unwilling to show up for the event, embarrassed MLB officials reportedly tried to bring in replacement players. Because, you know, that worked so well last time.
The idea behind the draft is to prevent teams from spending more money on amateur talent. While this would, in theory, free up more money for Major League players, more likely the result would be to put more money in the pockets of MLB owners. It would also potentially strangle the pipeline of talent from foreign countries that Major League Baseball has relied on for decades by pushing excellent players into other sports or into a more traditional job market to make ends meet for their families. As Badler put it last week,
“the people at MLB who create rules on international signings do not understand the fundamental mechanics of how players are developed and signed in Latin America…. MLB treats the players, their trainers and even the teams in an adversarial manner rather than bringing people together to solicit their ideas and work together to create a better system for all parties.”
But, as it often is, Major League Baseball is not considering the long-term consequences of its actions. It wants smaller bonuses and controlled spending on prospects, and it wants it now. And doesn’t feel like it should have to wait for a fair system that would benefit everyone to go into place. That could take until the next CBA, after all. MLB thinks it has the power to act, and so it’s acting. What we’re seeing now is players and trainers fighting back in solidarity, the only way they can hope to prevail.
Will it work? Who knows? There is another showcase scheduled for November 16 and 17 in Panama for players from Venezuela (where it’s currently too dangerous for scouts to travel). Perhaps this protest, which has the support of MLB scouts who were planning to attend, will inspire Major League Baseball to rethink its course of action. Or perhaps a similar protest in Panama will move them.
But, sadly, probably not. Solidarity, especially across international borders, is difficult to maintain. And, even if the players can hold themselves together, Baseball does occasionally shoot itself in the foot. It did it when it created the international spending cap that teams worked to find ways around, and it did when it included Puerto Rico in the regular amateur draft in 1990. There may simply be too much momentum to stop MLB from muscling this through.
But, if they listen, they’ll learn why their future players are so upset, and maybe find a better way forward that respects players’ economic freedom and makes the entire process of signing them less corrupt and more profitable for everyone involved.