We have known for some time now that the international market is incredibly shady. We've had exposés on the defections and what was essentially the kidnapping of Leonys Martin and Yasiel Puig. We know that Martin's agent has been arrested and charged with that kidnapping. And anyone who has seen the excellent documentary Pelotero can attest Dominican buscones are corrupt, skimming from their players, and will do anything to collect a commission.
I'm not sure we've seen it go quite this far, however. Yesterday, agent Charles Hairston announced that he and his company would no longer represent 16 year old Cuban phenom Lazaro "Lazarito" Armenteros because Hairston had been receiving death threats from one of those buscones, described in this MLB.com story as "an investor." "An investor," like Lazarito isn't a person. He's a thing. A business over which people are threatening violence. Good lord. Hairston went on,
"We stepped aside officially early this morning, but we were still negotiating and working with teams until noon [Tuesday]. Nothing was coming to fruition the way we wanted to and the best thing for us, thinking about our safety and our future was to step away. Lazarito is a great player, a once in-a-lifetime player, and it hurt us to step aside. The kid trusted us, and he got choked up about it. But I've got a family, we have other clients and there are other things going on."
How amazing and awful that the international market has gotten to the point where a man and his family have had their lives threatened. But how inevitable. Major League Baseball has allowed its aspiring international players to twist in the wind while they've struggled to clear them to play. It's allowed a virtually unregulated system to develop and then restricted the money available to everyone participating in it. Of course lawlessness is going to escalate.
Rob Manfred is going to use this, and the Leonys Martin case, to push for an international amateur draft. It's what the league has been working toward for years. And, indeed, a draft will reduce the incentive for criminals to get involved in the human trafficking and fraud that is still part of the international signing process. It will help to clean up what has become a very dirty business.
That said, it also will destroy the one payday that some of these young men will ever have. I mean, prospects get hurt and fall short all the time. It's what they do. We ask thousands of young players who will never make the Major Leagues to put their lives on hold as they chase their dreams. Thankfully, in the U.S., most of those that fall short will still have the educational and economic opportunities available to them to make a good life for themselves. Can we say the same for prospects who come from the Dominican Republic, who return home with a plane ticket and nothing more once they're released?
Maybe you think that prospects "haven't done anything" to earn that money, but that's fundamentally untrue. They just haven't done anything that's shown up on your extremely limited radar. They worked and trained hard enough that they made themselves into somebody who had value to Major League clubs. They should be rewarded for that value, not have it stripped away from them. A draft, with suggested slot values, will not only kill the earning potential of these young players, it will dampen enthusiasm in the game as a viable way out of poverty.
It's clear, though, that there must be some kind of regulation introduced to reduce the influence of criminals who would threaten players, agents, their families, and each other with harm. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that an auction scenario makes the most sense for international players. One team puts a player forward and there's a sealed bidding process (or an active one; that might be fun), where the team who wants a player the most gets that player (or the player gets to choose from the bids, if he has a preferred organization), and the player in question gets something approaching his free market value. It would encourage teams to do their own digging into players, and to get them through the process faster, before other clubs have a chance to get in on the ground floor on great players and so that they aren't as reliant on buscones and human traffickers. It would also create another inefficiency for smart low-revenue teams to try to exploit in their quest to unseat the high-revenue clubs.
There's no question that the league has to do something. I'm foolishly hoping that whatever direction they go don't wind up hurting poor amateur players from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and other countries. But I'm very prepared to be disappointed on all counts.