For about a decade now, Major League Baseball has been trying to find a way to get better control over the international free agent market. At one time the international market for free agents was as simple as this: You can pay as much money to a player as you want as long as they are 16-years-old or older during the signing period. Within the last decade that rules has been curbed – at first with penalties if teams went beyond their pool spending, and then by completely eliminating the ability to spend beyond the pool. Players used to be sign contracts that are now larger than entire pool allotments in this market. Still, MLB owners want more. They also want a draft instead of a free agent system.

That’s been the rumor de jour for at least the last half decade, but things still have not been moved to an international draft. With the current negotiations ongoing for a new collective bargaining agreement it’s a topic that’s back on the mind of those around baseball. Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs addressed a possible timeline for what that could look like in his most recent chat:


With the CBA still in limbo, what would you put the odds of there being an international draft for next years class? Thanks.

Eric Longenhagen

When I was working the international list in November, it was insinuated to me that a draft might be put in place sooner than I’d been guessing, which was either in 2023 or 2024. I think it’ll take longer to put together a format for it than people assume and the sooner it’s implemented the more blowback you’re gonna get as an industry since these kids and the orgs have already come to an agreement about lots of deals for the next two classes.

There’s a very important thought here from Longenhagen – teams pretty much have all of the 2023 classes locked up, and they have some of the 2024 classes locked in, too. While that isn’t a be-all-end-all, it’s going to be a tough sell to the baseball people who have put in the work and lined up their guys already.

And that, of course, ignores just how long it may take to get the things in line to set up an actual draft. It’s highly likely that an international draft is coming. But there will likely be a gap between the time it’s announced and when it’s implemented. For example, if they were to announce tomorrow that there’s going to be an international draft coming, that it likely wouldn’t start until 2024 or 2025.

There are so many problems that lie in the international market right now. A draft could appear to address some of those. As noted above, teams already have deals in place with players from both the 2023 and 2024 classes. They aren’t eligible to sign until they are 16. That means that teams have already made agreements with literal children who are 13 and 14-years-old. That is a situation that should not be happening, and it’s technically against the rules but everyone does it and the league doesn’t enforce things.

From an actual baseball standpoint, teams and front offices may be looking at a draft as being both good and bad. From one side of the coin, teams can and do lock up players at lower costs early on than they may be able to get them to agree to if they waited until the player was 15 and showing more skills and tools to more teams. On the other side of that coin is that there are players who frequently enough come to agreements very early on and stop working out for other teams and then by the time they are eligible to sign they haven’t developed as expected and if a team had waited they would have paid a lesser price. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose with these situations.

We’ve all been told for years that an international draft is coming. And there’s no real reason to think that it won’t be. But it still feels like it’s not going to be an immediate thing once announced.

A week from today, on Saturday January 15th the newest signing period will begin. In Baseball America’s rankings the Cincinnati Reds have two of the top 50, including the #3 overall prospect Ricardo Cabrera (who we heard about being linked to the Reds last year) – a shortstop out of Venezuela. The Reds are also expected to sign Antuan Valencia, who is also a shortstop out of Venezuela, among their signing class.

When the signings begin to roll in next weekend I’ll do my best to track down reports on everyone. Cabrera is probably the highest rated international signing for Cincinnati that didn’t come out of Cuba in my lifetime, so there is likely going to be a lot of talk about this class overall for the Reds as it just has a different feel than most of the past signing classes.

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Doug Gray is the owner and operator of this website and has been running it since 2006 in one variation or another. You can follow him on twitter @dougdirt24, or follow the site on Facebook. and Youtube.

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10 Responses

  1. Tom

    Whenever you’re in the top three international prospects conversation, there is such huge upside possibility. I’m more thrilled about this than any of the last 10 drafts.

  2. MBS

    I’d be happy about an international draft. It seems like a more equitable way of signing players. If I understand correctly, MLB teams invest into player development in a lot of these countries, like the Yankee’s might have a facility they own in the DR, where young players tryout basically and develop? Honestly I’ve never truly understood exactly how it works. It seems like that way would need to be scrapped in favor of a new player development system. Also it would be nice if they don’t draft players under 18, it just seems kinda slimy to sign a kid to a contract.

    • Doug Gray

      Every team has an academy there, but that’s not where players really develop at until after they sign.

      What typically happens is kids leave school when they are 12-14 to focus on training to play baseball for a living with a “buscone”. That guy/group covers the cost of training/living and in return tends to get a part of the players bonus that they get when they sign as “pay back”.

      Now, what can happen is that big league teams can have players at their facility for certain amounts of time before they sign to work out and stuff like that, but it’s limited. It’s not like players that have already signed who can and do live at the complex in a dorm-style set up where they tend to have both baseball and schooling on a daily basis.

      It’s a mess of a situation that’s going to take a long time to “correct”. Ever since the idea of an international draft has been out there, there’s been some push back from people in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic because they point to what happened when Puerto Rico was added to the draft rather than being a part of the international market – basically they argue that it really destroyed how many players were coming off of the island and it was stunting baseball development there. How true that is, I really don’t know.

  3. Stock

    A draft would hurt the Reds. They signed Ariel Almonte and Malvin Valdez last January. They have Cabrera, Valencia and Esmith Pineda on the 15th. Next year they have Duno who like Cabrera is a top 5 prospect. It seems the Reds have people in place to get more than their share of top players. Additionally, they seem to have the scouting to get quality mid-range players. Balcazar and Jorge were two huge signings in for less than $500,000. I don’t see how the Reds can improve upon 2021 with a draft. Likewise with this years draft class where last I heard they have 3 of the top 50 prospects. They probably have several players outside the top 50. If they are as successful as they were with last years signings then they have two great classes in a row.

    • Doug Gray

      Can they improve on 2021? No, probably not. Can they improve on nearly every other class in the history of their international signings? Yeah, they probably could.

  4. Greenfield Red

    Question for Doug: Does Cabrera immediately appear in your top 25 even at his young age, or will you have to see something on the field before such a lofty standing?

    Do you think he’s immediately in the MLB top 100?


    • Doug Gray

      I won’t be updating my top 25 until midseason, but yes, he would immediately make the list if I did. Top 100? I wouldn’t do it, but someone else may.