MLB draft versus International free agent market

The recent singing of Aroldis Chapman for $30.25 million has got me thinking. The number one pick in this year’s draft, Stephen Strasburg, is almost universally regarding as a better pitching prospect yet he signed for “only” $15.1 million. I say “only” because this was a record amount of guaranteed money for a draft pick. Still, why is it that the better pitcher in Strasburg received half as much money as Chapman?

The problem with this current system is that the International free agents hold a significant amount of bargaining power, where as the draft picks are subject to the team’s will and the MLB’s slotting system. The international players are free to negotiate with any team they wish which causes bidding wars thus driving up contract values. Chapman took up residence outside of the U.S. upon defecting Cuba just so he would not be subjected to the MLB draft and it appears this was a wise move on his part.

My question is at what point will we see American players leave the country and play in foreign leagues so they will be able to skip the draft and become free agents. We have already begun to see this is high school basketball where players have chosen to skip college and play overseas for a season or two before coming back to play in the NBA. Obviously, the competition levels, degree of difficulty and other factors are much different in baseball but for a supreme talent like Strasburg or an up and coming phenom like Bryce Harper, this could possibly be a lucrative avenue to pursue.

I am not suggesting this is feasible or even a good idea but it just goes to show the vast inequalities that exist between the two markets.

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  1. Greg Simons said...

    B-Chad, the fact that it was Cincinnati who signed Chapman, with Oakland second in the bidding, is a terrific example of why a hard slot system is unnecessary.  If these two small-market teams are willing to offer that much money to an unproven talent like Chapman, why should they be reluctant to draft a player who will sign for less than half that amount?

  2. Rich said...

    The more likely outcome is that a subsequent CBA will have a provision that makes international players subject to the draft.

  3. Dan Novick said...

    My guess is that will happen less often in baseball (if at all), for two reasons. Assuming that these players go to the Dominican, the quality of life is worse than what they’re used to in America. Second (they go hand in hand), the cultural adjustment for US->DR is probably greater than the adjustment for US->Europe.

  4. B-Chad said...

    This is an interesting article as it brings to light an interesting situation with no easy answers.  For starters, MLB’s suggested slot system is a joke for the Draft, and realistically a hard slot needs to be put in place.  It is frustrating to see teams pass up the better talent in the MLB Draft due to signability issues.  The problem is, a hard slot dollar amount that teams and players are forced to go by would almost certainly increase the gap between drafted players salaries and international free agent signees. 

    So what’s the solution?  Put a cap on what international signees can get in a free agent contract?  That doesn’t seem likely, and would cause to the rich getting richer in all likelihood.  At the same time, the current system all but assures that big market teams can realistically end up with whatever prospect they desire.  If Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, etc. scouts felt Aroldis Chapman was a Stephen Strasburg clone the Reds offer for him would have been blown out of the water.  Thus there appears to be a real problem with regulating salaries and closing the gap between that of draftees and international free agents, and I don’t have a suggestion, but would love to hear some.

  5. Pat said...

    I find it interesting that in a league where the gap between revenues/payrolls is the biggest in all the major sports we seem surprised by this discrepancy.  Without a true salary cap/luxury tax this discrepancy will continue. As a royals fan I have seen all the good players of my team leave AND recently have seen us pass on better draft picks for the same reason……$$$$$. Baseball is a great sport but it will continue to slide in popularity outside of the big markets if it isnt changed!!!

  6. Marcel said...

    They would still be subject to the draft as they are still American citizens.  The only way to become an international free agent would be to gain citizenship on another country and lose your American citizenship.  That’s a pretty big trade-off.

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