Surprise! MLB, union can't agree on international draft as deadline draws near

Well, we’re nearly at the All-Star break but even after the contentious 99-day lockout ended in time to preserve the full season, MLB and the players union still cannot agree on the final element of their collective bargaining agreement. 

The international draft, which was tabled to avoid the lockout from dragging on and further delaying the season, remains an issue that is no closer to being resolved now than it was this winter. 

The Major League Baseball Players Association issued a formal proposal Friday to the Commissioner’s Office that accepted a form of an international draft, under different conditions. 

And surprise, surprise: MLB, which made their original proposal on the international draft exactly a year ago, has no intention of accepting it. 

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Yet, just like the labor negotiations during the winter, there is a massive divide between the proposals between MLB and the union, to the tune of about $100 million.

There was $291 million spent in the domestic draft last year compared to $164 million in international signings. The union’s proposal would make disparity much smaller.

MLB’s proposal is a $17 million increase to $181 million in the international draft while the union is seeking $260 million, nearly the same amount as the domestic draft, according to a person familiar with the proposal told USA TODAY Sports.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to disclose the terms publicly.

The amateur Japanese and Korean players would be subject to the draft as amateurs, but not if they are professional players above a determined age with service time. Players from Puerto Rico and Canada would remain part of the domestic draft, but not the international draft. 

If MLB and the union don’t reach an agreement by July 25, free agents will continue to be subjected to a qualifying offer system

If MLB and the union don’t reach an agreement by July 25, free agents will continue to be subjected to a qualifying offer system, which has limited players’ earning ability in the past. The potential free agents who are expected to receive qualifying offers this winter include Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, Willson Contreras and Joe Musgrove. 

If the qualifying offers are eliminated, clubs that lose a top free agent will still receive compensation, but the clubs who signs a free agent will not forfeit any draft picks or international pool money, which is estimated to be worth at least $100 million. 

MLB informed the union in its original proposal a year ago that no international draft would significantly decrease incentives for clubs to promote prospects earlier. Teams whose players win the Rookie of the Year and finish among the top three in MVP or Cy Young voting would gain one draft pick in the domestic draft, and two in the international draft. 

MLB insists that the biggest incentive for an international draft is not money, but to help curb the corruption and the signing of underaged players. It also would end international players’ ability to negotiate with all 30 teams, which the union wants to continue. 

“Our efforts to rein in corruption in the Dominican have been ongoing and legion,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in his press conference after the owner’s meetings in June. “It’s easy to say that it’s the people that cut the checks that are engaged in corruption. But you know somebody’s taking the check, right?” 

Under the league's proposal, the international draft would begin in 2024 with a top salary of $5.51 million. There would be no negotiating for signing bonuses, with each draft spot slotted for a certain bonus. The union wants the international draft to have room for players to negotiate without a hard slot, just like the domestic draft. MLB argues that the lack of a hard slot wouldn’t prevent players signing illegal early deals.

MLB, which received the union’s formal proposal Friday morning, has yet to issue an official response. Considering there are just 2 ½ weeks remaining before the deadline, it’s hard to fathom an agreement can be reached this quickly. 

It’s possible an extension could be granted, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement still hasn’t been put in writing, and can’t be resolved until the international draft issue is taken care of. There may be some wiggle room, but free agency begins after the final out of the World Series, and teams want a decision before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, which could impact trade decisions. 

We’ll have a formal answer soon, but considering the turbulence between MLB and the union during the CBA negotiations, did we really expect anything to come easily?