Monday, February 18, 2008

The Need for a Global Baseball Draft

Last Monday, fellow blogger and international aficionado StopMikeLupica wrote a riveting piece on the decline of Puerto Rican baseball players in the Major Leagues. According to SML, since 1989, when Major League Baseball declared prospective ballplayers from Puerto Rico had to be drafted and could not be independently signed, the number of Puerto Ricans drafted has decreased approximately 800%, from 55 in 1989 to 7 in 2006.

In response to this phenomenon, SML writes that perhaps MLB is treating Puerto Rican ballplayers unfairly by "treating them as Americans" and making them wait until they are 18 to enter the ranks of Major League Baseball. SML also states that the odds are currently against Puerto Rican ballplayers as the island boasts few places to continue honing baseball skills, with no high school teams and only the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy and weekend leagues to provide training. For this reason it is no coincidence MLB teams have begun to look elsewhere for talent, spanning the globe and establishing baseball academies through South America and even as far away as China.

There is no doubt baseball is a growing sport throughout the world. As Jonathan Helfgott writes in his recent essay "The International Game", as established leagues in Cuba and Japan continue to prosper, other small leagues have come to existence in countries such as Australia and South Africa. Through these leagues and events such as the World Baseball Classic, potential prospects from around the globe have begun working towards possible opportunities in the Major Leagues.

Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has decided to divide the world into two distinct classes in regards to acquiring prospective talent. Under the current labor agreement, the rules governing North America (including Puerto Rico) are different from those governing the rest of the world. Whereas teams must wait until North American prospects are 18 years of age before signing them to professional contracts, these organizations can pursue and sign non-North Americans as young as 16 to professional contracts.

Until MLB institutes a global draft, prospects from poorer regions, such as Puerto Rico, included in the current MLB Draft rules will be at a disadvantage. In their article, Worldwide Draft on baseballguru.com, Arturo J. Marcano and David P. Fidler, authors of Stealing Lives: The Globalization of of Baseball and the Tragic Story of Alexis Quiroz, outline the obstacles of a potential worldwide draft. Marcano and Fidler discuss five principles (democratization, centralization, harmonization, specialization, and implementation) needed to create a fair and competitive global baseball draft.

Although briefly inferred in Marcano and Fidler’s “centralization” section, Major League Baseball should annex individual team foreign academies and incorporate them under one single corporate banner. These MLB academies could then provide open source scouting and facilitate the development of more self-sustaining foreign leagues. These leagues in turn could eventually then be responsible for their own training and development and take the onus off Major League Baseball. Ideally, all prospects would hone their skills in leagues similar to those in Australia, South Africa, and Japan.

Of course, MLB is notorious for having its teams operate in a non-level economic environment. An environment that may only get worse as small market teams are forced to raid third world countries for talent, while larger market clubs are able to sign not only their costly domestic draft picks, but also incorporate established stars from around the world.

For the sake of the prospects, their livelihood, and competitive balance, it is time for a global draft. If the NBA and the NHL can draft prospects from around the world, why can't Major League Baseball?

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