Today, the Blue Jays announced they have signed 17-year old oufielder Francisco Tejada for $150K out of the Dominican Republic. Nobody knows anything about him, other than that he supposedly possesses a high ceiling.
Which is great. And it reminds me that these international signings may not be possible just a year from now.
There are a lot of pressing issues that surround talks about the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, and none more than the idea of a worldwide draft (and please refrain from referring to it as an 'international' draft, we already have one of those).
On the surface, it looks like a dandy plan. All of the inhumane practices currently done by MLB teams to heavily recruit Latin America, and the chaotic structure would be abolished. All teams would have a fair shake at the top latin prospects, not just the teams with enough money to build enormous academies and pay their toolsy students mounds of dough.
But just look as what happened in Puerto Rico. In 1990, the commonwealth to America was added to the Rule 4 Draft (amateur draft), and the nation hasn't enjoyed the giant baseball boom that many other latin states have in the past 10 years. The amount of baseball players from Puerto Rico has actually fallen.
It's all due to one simple reason: The hotshot latino baseball players are in fact trained by Major League Baseball teams before they are signed by those franchises.
Plus, many other people along the way aid these players, expecting to get a chunk of the signing bonus the player recieves after signing. Take away the incentive to train these players to what they become when signed, and what do you think happens? They don't reach their full potential, it's that simple.
A worldwide draft would certainly be the fairest way to do business and would fit in well with the other ways MLB attempts to regulate the playing field. But the level of baseball played by these Latin America prospects would be greatly diminished and in turn, they would get picked much later in the draft.
It's not all genetics, these players need to be nurtured in their teens by high-level instructors to turn into solid major leaguers. And a worldwide draft would fail to accomplish this vital task.
Another issue is the draft slotting system. A hard-slotting system would allow Major League Baseball to manage signing bonus inflation as well as leveling the playing field. No longer would players drop full rounds due to signability concerns, or teams be forced to not select the best player available with the number one selection.
An additional benefit to this type of system is that top draftees would be on the field days after being drafting, not holding out until August to get every last dollar. Their signing bonus would have been decided the exact second after they were selected.
And if you're going to implement a worldwide draft, it's almost a necessity to enable a hard-slotting system. Latin American 17-year olds can't threaten to go to college if they don't get their way with a team.
I'm certainly fine with a hard-slotting system, and think it would be best for baseball.
Free Agent Compensation
The third main discussion point regarding the Rule 4 Draft is compensation picks, which are built upon free agent rankings. The formulas just don't make sense and routinely are players punished for ranking in the 'A' category of the Elias lists. Yes, athletes must take a hit for being good baseball players.
And this is where I'm going to illustrate my own plan and deviate from just commenting on speculation.
I believe that free agent rankings should be built on a restructured form of Wins Above Replacement. Take away the controversial defensive metric the statistic uses (UZR, which I'm comfortable using, but hasn't gained widespread agreeance as a legitimate metric), and replace it with a set grading that reflects the defensive spectrum.
Give catchers and shortstops a 15 that replaces their UZR, as they playing difficult defensive positions and penalize players that player easy positions (Say, give designated hitters a -15, and then space out all the other positions between these extremes).
This seems like a basic enough strategy, but apparently not as Major League Baseball currently lumps outfielders, first basemen and designated hitters together to distinguish between defensive value. Does Franklin Gutierrez really provide the same defensive value as Vladimir Guerrero? I think not.
Then, use this scale to determine a player's free agent ranking (I'll explain what exactly I would make each ranking level mean later on):
If player qualifies for first requirement of ranking but not second, they would slot into the ranking level below them.
6+ WAR and 4+ previous season: Type A
4-6 WAR and 3+ previous season: Type B
2-4 WAR and 2+ previous season: Type C
Any other free agent: unranked
Teams that sign Type A free agents must sacrifice their first round selection from the upcoming draft and the team the player is signed from receives a compensation round pick between the first and second rounds of the draft.
Teams that sign Type B free agents must sacrifice their second round selection from the upcoming draft, and the team the player is signed from receives a compensation round selection between the first and second rounds of the upcoming draft.
Teams that sign Type C free agents must not give up anything, but the team the player is signed off of receives a compensation round selection between the first and second rounds of the upcoming draft. Exact WAR for the platform year is used to determine the order of the compensation round (descending from highest in category).
The system I have proposed would certainly serve its purpose (that is, rank the best players highest), and rid ourselves of the outdated formulas MLB currently uses. Sure, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan, I am pleased with the plethora of picks the Blue Jays have been given in recent years due to exploiting the strange amount of value the system gives to middle relievers., but as someone generally interested in the well-being of Major League Baseball, it just doesn't make sense.
And it's not fair to the players either, especially those that have to wait around until April to get a job because they were the worst-of-the-best free agents.
Major League Baseball will put some drastic changes in place when they meet with the MLBPA to write up a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, of which the current version expires in December of this year. These three concepts are likely just the beginning.