NEW YORK (AP) — The market for a group of free agents that includes Anthony Rizo, JD Martinez, Chris Sale and charlie morton could begin to be defined on Monday, the deadline for the union and Major League Baseball to agree on an international draft that would begin in 2024.
If the union commits in writing by midnight EDT to a mutually agreeable framework for an international draft, the system of qualifying offers for free agents in place since 2012 would disappear.
Although losing draft picks hasn’t stopped teams from chasing top free agents — this year’s roster includes Judge Aaron, Jacob of Grom and Trea Turner — a slightly lower level was impacted. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel delayed signing in 2019 until June, after draft pick compensation was no longer attached.
“We want to do whatever it takes for these guys to make sure they get good deals and good contracts,” New York food shortstop Francois Lindor, who serves on the union’s eight-man executive subcommittee, said on Sunday. “But we also want to make sure that the guys who come into the game are also taken care of, are put in a good situation in a good place.”
MLB proposed last July 28 that a 2024 international draft include spending of $181 million for the top 600 players and $190 million in total, compared to $166 million for the 2021 signing period. MLB’s proposal contained hard slots, which for 2024 would award $5,512,500 for the first pick to $2,625,000 for the 10th overall.
The players waited until early July to make a counter-offer. They proposed a draft be allocated $260 million for the 2024 signing period, with teams having to secure slot values while having the ability to exceed them in bonus pools, The Associated Press told someone familiar with the plan. This person spoke on condition of anonymity as details have not been announced.
“The players have been willing to have a conversation, despite the fact that there are players on either side of the equation,” union leader Tony Clark said. “But everyone can agree that the system that should be considered here, especially in a draft world, must be much better than what has otherwise been considered so far.”
An amateur draft was established for residents of the United States and Canada in 1965 and expanded to residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico in 1990. The players’ association agreed to a signing structure of bonus pools with penalties which began in 2012, and international amateurs were subject to a similar but different bonus pool system.
MLB pushed for an international draft in the negotiations, arguing it would reduce corruption, especially in the Dominican Republic. MLB hopes a draft will weed out players who make deals before they are eligible to sign — either 16 or 15 if the player turns 16 later in the signing window.
“Our concern and I think it has been well documented over time are situations where clubs commit to players before they are technically of signing age, whether there are individuals involved in these negotiations that take some of the really important part of the compensation that really should go to the highest ranked player,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
The Atlanta Braves lost 13 prospects and former general manager John Coppolella was banned for life by Major League Baseball in 2017.
“You have two ways to handle rule violations,” Manfred said. “You can investigate and try to find out what happened in each individual situation. We tried that for a number of years — it didn’t work very well. That’s just a lot of transactions you have to chase. The other way is transparency, and that’s why we like the idea of the project. If you don’t know which club will get the rights to the player, there’s no point in getting an early deal, is there?”
Union officials said the corruption was partly caused by teams willing to pay money in violation of the rules.
“It’s easy to say it’s the people who paid the check, that they’re involved in the corruption,” Manfred said. “But someone takes the check, right?”
If an international draft is not accepted, a team signing a qualified free agent would still lose one or more picks in the next amateur draft and have their international signing bonus pool reduced.
Either way, a team losing a free agent could earn an additional draft pick, depending on several conditions.
Some older players could see their markets limited if they turn down eligible offers — last year’s figure was $18.4 million, the average of the top 125 deals by average annual value.
A resolution is not expected before the deadline.
“At least from my perspective, we’re still not there,” Lindor said.
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