Monday, July 21, 2008

SPORTS: MLB Needs World-Wide Draft

Gord Ash, the best of the last two GMs of the Toronto Blue Jays, has been stumping for a world-wide draft for major league baseball. And he's right.

It's not like there isn't a desire on the part to cut down on the monied clubs' ability to throw huge sums at itinerant youngsters fresh off the sandlots of Latin America. The fact that it helps them maintain their advantage is hardly news. And it would be nice not to have to pay the Michal Inoa's of the world millions of dollars and hope it pays off six or seven or more years down the road, as Oakland just did recently. And lastly, it would be nice if those players arrived speaking English, well-nourished and understanding of MLB's steroids policy.

And it would also be nice if those kids weren't turning over 30 percent (or more) of their signing bonuses to the wolves in friend's clothing that 'find' them for various MLB clubs. Or have their bonuses skimmed by MLB personnel, as has been alleged to have happened at, at least two different organizations. Maybe more.

So, it's time to get serious about foreign talent.

Okay, the basics of the world-wide draft are simple. You must register to be drafted, wherever in the world you are. You can start registering on your 17th birthday and stay on the list until age 23. You can register any time until age 23. For players playing for a recognized country's major baseball league, (primarily Cuba and Japan), you can register at any age for a one-year stay on the registered list, assuming you have NO contractual requirements in that country. Recognized countries are those that participate in the World Baseball Championships. Going undrafted throughout the COMPLETE duration of the registration period results in the player becoming a free agent.

That out of the way, it's time to get the MLB hands dirty. MLB has to open academies in all prospect-producing countries. These academies effectively become schools. Education, with an emphasis on learning English, in non-English-speaking countries, has to become part of the day. Tutoring on the fine art of baseball also needs to be paired with eduction on health and nutrition. Teaching what can and cannot be done in the future, needs to be started young. Getting rid of the influence of the good and bad 'talent scouts' would be worth millions of dollars. Judging the talent in the academy for a couple of years would lessen the ability of some nasty piece of business stashing a kid for a particular club. By making academy participation mandatory for being drafted in ages 17 and 18, means a stashed kid stays penniless for two years. That would be hard to pull off.

Of course, there are ways to profit from teaching a potential great at an academy. You could con your way into a percentage of future earnings. The rule to stop that is that any agreement made by an academy member with somebody connected to the academy, while AT the academy, is illegal. Also, keeping a kids' potential hidden for a certain club means any employee of the academy is prevented from accepting a major league job for three years after leaving an academy position. And no academy employee will ever be granted status as an agent. Ever. If you leave the academy to come back to the States, then it's college ball, high school ball or the independent leagues. For three years. And you never, ever work for a percentage. Ever.

In places like the Dominican, Venezuela and Nicaragua, there are probably academies from all 30 major league teams. They have to be combined under the umbrella of MLB and made universally accessible for all clubs. The MLB teams will still send scouts. You might like the big power-hitting outfielder, while I prefer the lefty pitcher with the killer curve-ball. Seeing is believing. At least they'll be watching 17-year olds rather than looking a 14-year old and trying to project seven years into the future. If you are the A's, Rays or Jays, making that prediction is the difference between winning and losing two decades down the line. If you're the Yanks, Bosox or the Angels, you throw money at the kid, knowing you only have to get lucky once a decade to maintain your spot atop the standings. Afterall, you are buying ten kids for every one that makes it. It's only money.

This plan would raise the level of kids playing ball all over the world. I'm not just saying it would raise talent levels. It would also raise the standard of living for a lot of them. That cannot be a bad thing. It would help them with the upcoming struggle that moving far, far away will create for them. And, if nothing else, as hockey has proved, there is no corner of the world so remote as to produce unwatched talent. Heck, hockey scouts and baseball scouts are now sharing airplane trips to the remotest regions of Siberia, to scout talent.

The two main problems with this whole concept is paying for it and the balkiness of the Players' Association. Lay off imposing a salary cap for one more contract, and the PA will sell out their future members with no difficulty. Cap's coming, just not in this next contract. Paying for the scheme will not be an inconsequential problem. The big money clubs will fight tooth and nail against communal pay, since it will wipe out their talent pipeline advantage. Oddly, it will save them money. But power is never given up easily. Possibly a basic commitment for each club will be augmented by a pay for each selection made from the academies. A plan can be worked out.

And no, Japan will not be a problem, despite losing the current operation that allows for big posting fees from the rich teams in big cities. They'll be outlawed. And the Japanese will come up with another solution. The player they want to post can register, having become a free agent. It's up to them to bid enough for a multi-year contract with the player to have him turn away from the offer he's getting from the team that drafted him. Then, they can post him the next year. Seems good for the player financially. And being a free agent that one year, he might just spurn staying in Japan and come over right there and then.

All in all, the MLB entry draft can be made world-wide. Then, it will go further along the path towards leveling the talent that the draft was designed to do in the first place. With fewer ways around the draft, the big money clubs will be forced into better management, since throwing money at hordes of Latinos will no longer serve as cushion for mistakes.

No comments: