The reported final sticking point to the recent collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association was an agreement over the international draft. It has been reported for several years now that MLB is interested in implementing a draft for young international free agents; in fact, they tried to do so during the previous two CBAs, dating back to 2011. The Yankees have been aggressive in international free agency over the past few years and would be deeply affected by any change.
In recent years, the Yankees have taken an aggressive approach to pursuing players ranked near the top of IFA market. Dating back to the 2017 signing period, the Yankees have landed players such as Jasson Dominguez, Everson Pereira, Alexander Vargas,, and Roderick Arias, who all rated in the upper echelon of available IFAs for their given class. Next year, they are expected to land Brandon Mayea, who is ranked at the top of the early IFA rankings for the next signing period.
Jonesing for live baseball? Here’s an at-bat that ends with a homer for #Yankees prospect Alexander Vargas: pic.twitter.com/T4a9GAZYhx— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) March 3, 2022
The fact that everyone knows the Yankees are the favorite to sign Mayea — and have known for at least the last six months — is part of the reason a draft is likely coming. Teams are not supposed to be negotiating and reaching deals with players until the IFA period opens every year for eligible 16-year-olds, yet many of the deals have been a done for close to two years by that point.
In order to keep up with the industry, teams are heavily scouting and making handshake deals worth six and seven figures with 13 and 14-year-olds. Those agreements are against the rules and ripe with reported kickbacks to trainers and other shady characters who become part of the process, but MLB does nothing to enforce those rules.
Some video of Brandon Mayea, the top 2022-23 International prospect, taking batting practice decked out in Yankees gear. Video courtesy his IG. pic.twitter.com/VhPpI9RYaa— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) February 9, 2022
Despite most parties agreeing that there are major issues with the current system, not everyone agrees that the draft is the way to go (as my colleague Esteban discussed yesterday). Many players who came into the professional ranks value the choice that the current system allows them when choosing a team. David Ortiz said this past week that “the system in the Dominican [Republic] is not ready to have a draft next year.” There are concerns among Ortiz and his peers that the draft will significantly hurt the game in the Dominican Republic if it is not done right.
The MLBPA and MLB have agreed to revisit the international draft in the coming months. If it comes into fruition, gone will be the days when the Yankees can focus their energy on the very top of the player pool. Also gone will be the days when a player reaches an agreement at age 14, and then is no longer in the normal competition and scouting cycle for two years prior to signing. This will create a format where late bloomers (late being a relative term) will be evaluated until the last days before the draft and rewarded with bonuses matching their skill and not based on where they were performing a year or two prior, as is sometimes the case now.
Another wrinkle that the Yankees will certainly take advantage of is that international draft picks are going to be tradable under MLB’s proposal. Prior to the pandemic, teams were allowed to trade for additional international bonus pool allotments, and the Yankees aggressively used this tactic. In late 2017, the acquisition of minor league pitcher Michael King from the Marlins was not the headline in the deal, as the Yankees also bagged a significant amount of international bonus pool money to continue their pursuit of Shohei Ohtani. The next year, they acquired more international bonus pool space from the Cardinals (in the Luke Voit deal) and from the White Sox in order to sign Cuban shortstop Alexander Vargas after already landing a handful of other highly-rated prospects.
Based on their past history, it is logical that the Yankees will aggressively work on trading for international draft picks, especially those near the top of the draft. By the time the Yankees land Mayea next year, they will have signed top-10 rated IFA prospects in five of the last six signing classes. In order to continue acquiring talent near the top of the class, the Yankees will have to trade for that ability.
It is likely that an international player draft is coming by 2024, and it will change the way that the Yankees do business. Gone will be the days of adding bonus pool space and loading up on the top available talent in the draft. The Yankees will have to adjust to the new market that develops around tradable picks and the additional scouting that comes with a draft process where a team’s ideal players are off the board before they even have a pick.