For a second there, it looked like MLB’s just-finalized CBA was good news for international amateur free agents. The owners had originally pushed for the institution of an international draft, which would have artificially depressed the earning potential of amateur free agents from overseas and denied them the ability to freely choose their employer. A contingent of Latino players came to the negotiating table to squash that idea, but the deal that was eventually settled on is still a bad one.
Under the new CBA, a few things will change for international amateur free agents. For one, international free agents won’t lose their “amateur” status—which prevents them from negotiating a contract without any restraints—until they are 25; the age limit under the old CBA was 23. (This means we won’t be seeing Shohei Otani until 2019 at the earliest, which sucks ass.)
Teams have also had their ability to pay international amateur free agents greatly restricted by the new CBA. Under the old system, each team was allotted a certain amount of money, usually between $2 million and $5 million, to spend on signing foreign amateurs. Teams were, however, free to exceed their allotment so long as they were willing to pay a dollar-for-dollar penalty tax. As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan points out, that leeway has been eliminated by the new CBA:
Still, a cap of just over $10 million pales compared to the current agreement. The San Diego Padres, in the midst of a rebuild, have spent upward of $40 million on Latin American amateurs since July 2 – and they’re happy to pay the dollar-for-dollar tax that accompanies nearly all of it. In the new agreement, teams cannot shatter their ceiling. It is a hard cap, counting every dollar spent except those on players who cost $10,000 and under, which tend to be the longer-shot prospects.
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This is objectively bad for baseball. Not only is it further restricting the earning power of international amateur free agents, it’s giving teams—particularly small-market teams—less options for how to spend their money.
Say you’re the Tampa Bay Rays, and you understand that no amount of money is going to help you convince a star to come play for you instead of the Red Sox. What you might do is look for places where your money can offer some advantages. One of those places used to be international amateur free agency; a team like the Rays or Padres could spend well over their cap in an effort to gobble up low-cost free agents, who are below a big-market team’s radar, that might one day develop into solid players. Now, that option is gone.
The only people this new policy benefits are rich owners who don’t want to spend their money, and that should tell you all you need to know about how harmful to the game it is.