MLBPA Rejects MLB’s “Final” International Draft Proposal

The Major League Baseball Players Association announced Monday that it has rejected Major League Baseball’s latest (and purportedly “final”) proposal regarding the implementation of an international draft. The MLBPA’s statement reads as follows:

“The Players Association today rejected what MLB characterized as its “final” proposal to establish a draft and hard slotting system for international entrants.

Players made clear from the outset that any International Draft must meaningfully improve the status quo for those players and not unfairly discriminate between those players and domestic entrants. To this end, the Players Association made a series of proposals aimed at protecting and advancing the rights of international amateurs.

Our draft proposals — unprecedented in MLBPA history — sought to establish minimum guarantees in player signings, roster spots, infrastructure investments, playing opportunities, scouting opportunities as well as enforcement measures to combat corruption. We also made proposals to compensate international signees more fairly and in line with other amateurs, and to ensure that all prospects have access to an educational and player development safety net.

At their core, each of our proposals was focused on protecting against the scenario that all Players fear the most — the erosion of our game on the world stage, with international players becoming the latest victim in baseball’s prioritization of efficiency over fundamental fairness. The League’s responses fell well short of anything Players could consider a fair deal.”

An MLB spokesperson released a statement of their own (relayed by James Wagner of the New York Times):

“MLB has worked to reach agreement with the MLBPA to reform the international amateur system in ways that would address longstanding challenges and benefit future players. We are disappointed the MLBPA chose the status quo over transitioning to an international draft that would have guaranteed future international players larger signing bonuses and better educational opportunities, while enhancing transparency to best address the root causes of corruption in the current system.”

The system for acquiring international amateur players has remained a topic of negotiation between the league and union going back years. It was a particularly prevalent point of discussion in the most recent collective bargaining talks, with the league’s desire for and the MLBPA’s opposition to an international draft emerging as a late sticking point in the parties’ efforts to finalize a new CBA last spring. Eventually, the parties agreed to temporarily table international draft discussions while ratifying the remainder of the CBA and ending the lockout. The sides gave themselves until July 25 to agree upon a draft, with the condition that the qualifying offer system for free agents would be eliminated if a draft were implemented.

It would appear that no draft will be put in place, although the July 25 deadline was a mutually agreed upon date between the league and union the parties could revise if they wanted to do so. The “final” terminology of the league’s proposal indicates no additional discussions are on the horizon, but it’s at least worth remembering that in March, the union rejected multiple CBA offers MLB had presented as its last proposal before the sides eventually agreed to circle back and reconvene in time to avoid the final cancelation of regular season games.

That certainly doesn’t mean the same process will play out in this case, however, particularly since it seems the parties weren’t anywhere close to agreeable terms. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reports (on Twitter) the MLBPA leadership was so dissatisfied with the league’s offer they never brought it to the players for an official vote, as the union leadership has authority to do. Union leaders did inform player reps they planned to reject the offer before officially doing so, according to Heyman, to which there were no objections.

There indeed seemed to be a large gap between the sides to bridge, primarily on the amount of money that would be allotted for signing bonuses. The league’s “final” offer involved the creation of a $191MM bonus pool to be distributed among the players taken in the 20-round draft; the MLBPA had been seeking $260MM. The league wanted fixed, hard slots associated with each selection that could neither be exceeded nor undershot; the union wanted slot values to serve as a floor but afford the flexibility for teams to go overslot. Additionally, there was a reported gap in the proposed maximum bonuses for undrafted free agents — with the league offering $20K and the MLBPA proposing $40K.

MLB has maintained that even a $191MM bonus pool would be a boon for players relative to the status quo, claiming it’d result in more than $20MM extra going to international amateurs than had been the case under the existing system. The union has countered the bonuses for the top international players would still fall short in comparison to those of domestic draftees and that any overall financial boost would be more than counteracted by international players’ forfeiture of their ability to choose their first team.

The league has also expressed concern about the current system’s incentivizing teams and players to verbally agree to deals well in advance of players reaching their 16th birthday. A hard-capped draft would all but eliminate that occurrence, but the union has expressed its belief that tighter enforcement against verbal agreements would achieve the same purpose without necessitating a draft.

If this truly marks the end of negotiations, the status quo for both the international amateur setup and the qualifying offer will remain. That’s a notable development for upcoming free agent markets, as teams will still have to forfeit draft picks and/or international signing bonus space to sign players who received and rejected the QO. The MLBPA has sought to remove that non-monetary cost associated with adding any free agents, but that hasn’t proven a sufficient enough inducement for the union to agree to the league’s vision for an international draft. Even if this closes the book on the issue for a while, it stands to reason the league’s desire for a draft will come up again during future CBA negotiations.