Collective bargaining is more or less over. For now, we have labor peace, or something like it. The new CBA is complex and will surely be broken down every which way by analysts around the world, but for now I want to focus on the one piece that has been left out: International Free Agency (IFA).
The IFA was significantly changed when a hard cap was put on spending years ago. The main difference for players was that much of their agency was stripped from them compared to previous CBAs. They have become more restricted in their choice of teams. If a team didn’t have a big pool of money in the next signing period, they obviously couldn’t sign that many players. This severely limits players’ potential winnings, limits the number of competitors bidding for each player’s services, and the number of teams to choose from.
Because children were limited in who they could sign with, their signing times were dramatically accelerated. Of course, they are technically not allowed to sign before the age of 16, but this rule has rarely, and I mean rarely, been enforced. The teams plan their international expenses for the long term. This obviously helps clubs better plan their finances and profit margins, a boon for owners, who don’t like uncertainty. If they all agree that under the table handshake deals with international players are okay and no one is snagging the other, then all is well!
At present, this system will continue, but the potential for a draft in the near future is very real, as evidenced by MLB’s sudden and strong push to tie an international draft to various key economics of the new ABC. There are pros and cons to a draft. The biggest pro is that teams will no longer be able to exploit 14-year-old baseball players. I wouldn’t be surprised if some executives were still working on their side channels to gauge some kids’ interest as the draft approaches and their points become clearer, but even then you can’t control whether another team shoots you in the draft.
In theory, this is a great advantage. The exploitation of young children that takes place in international free will is actively disgusting. The teams have colluded for years and have no problem breaking their own rules. Even with all that said, I’m not sure that removing this less well guarded style of collusion compensates for the loss of agency players currently have. A draft of the kind we’re used to in American sports is by definition bad for the job. People should be able to choose their employer, regardless of their age or if they went to college, a privilege that is taken away from every player subject to a draft.
This fact becomes even more important when you consider that these players are young and should have the opportunity to choose an environment in which they feel comfortable, where people are accommodating and where they can experience the culture they have no choice but to assimilate to. MLB has been slowly stripping these players of their agency for years now. A draft would complete this ongoing exploitation process, and former and current Latin American gamers apparently don’t want to be a part of it. Even just for that reason, he should be completely off the negotiating table.
To the players’ credit, it seems the prospect of an international draft was never used as a bargaining chip in CBA negotiations, but the fact is that it should never see the light of day. The uneven representation of Latin American actors on the executive committee makes this even more important. With 30% of the majors represented by Latin Americans, their wishes must be heard at the negotiating table. Otherwise, the people negotiating might be giving up the agency of a significant portion of their population.