Collective bargaining negotiations are more or less over. For now, we have labor peace, or something resembling it. The new CBA is complex, and will surely be broken down every which way by analysts everywhere, but right now, I want to home in on the one piece which was left out of the picture: international free agency (IFA).
IFA was significantly changed when a hard cap was put on spending years ago. The main difference for the players was that much of their agency was taken away relative to previous CBAs. They became more restricted in their choice of teams. If a team didn’t have a significant pool of money in the upcoming signing period, then they obviously couldn’t sign as many players. That severely limits player potential earnings, limits the number of competitors bidding for each player’s services, and the number of teams one can choose from.
Since the kids were restricted in who they could sign with, their signing timelines were significantly accelerated. Sure, they are technically not allowed to sign till they are 16, but that rule has rarely, and I mean rarely, been enforced. Teams have their international spending planned out well into the future. This obviously better helps clubs plan out their finances and profit margins, a boon for owners, who famously do not like uncertainty. If they all agree that under the table handshake agreements with international players are OK and nobody rats the other out, then everything is fine!
As of right now, this system will continue, but the potential for a draft in the near future is very real, as evidenced by MLB’s sudden and strong push to tie an international draft to various key economic pieces of the new CBA. There are pros and cons to a draft. The most important pro is that teams will not be able to exploit 14-year-old baseball players anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if some executives would still work their back channels to gauge interest from some kids as the draft approaches and their spots become clearer, but even then, you can’t control if another team snipes you in the draft.
In theory, this is a great benefit. The exploitation of young kids that goes on in international free agency is actively disgusting. Teams have colluded with one another for years and have no problem at all with breaking their own rules. Even with all that said, I’m not sure doing away with this worst-kept-secret style of collusion outweighs the loss of agency that players currently have. A draft of the kind that we are used to in American sports is definitionally bad for labor. People should be able to choose their employer no matter how old they are or whether they went to college, a privilege that is stripped from every player subject to a draft.
This fact becomes even more important when you consider that these players are young, and should have the opportunity to choose an environment that they are comfortable in, where the people are accommodating, and where they can learn about the culture they have no choice but to assimilate into. MLB has been slowly stripping these players of their agency for years now. A draft would complete this ongoing process of exploitation, and former and current Latin American players apparently want no part of it. Even just for that reason, it should be completely off the negotiation table.
To the players’ credit, it does seem as if the prospect of an international draft was never used as a bargaining chip in CBA negotiations, but the point is it should never see the light of day. The executive committee’s unequal representation of Latin American players makes this even more important. With 30 percent of the majors being represented by Latin Americans, it’s necessary that their desires are heard at the negotiating table. Otherwise, the people bargaining could trade away the agency of a significant chunk of their population.