Friday, October 9, 2009

Selig: Hard Slots And International Draft

Bud SeligJohn Manuel has the story at Baseball America:
Speaking on ESPN Radio’s "Mike & Mike" show, co-hosted today by ESPN baseball writer Buster Olney, Selig answered a question about the international draft by saying he wants one, and threw in hard slotting—as opposed to the current system, where the commissioner’s office recommends slots but has no real enforcement mechanism—as part of the equation.

"That’s one that there’s no debate in my mind," Selig said. "We need an international draft, and we need slotting. There is no question about it. I’ve had many clubs on all sides, small-market, big-market, medium-market—we’re going to have slotting, and we’re going to have an international draft. Those will be two of our great priorities in 2011. There’s no question about it. We need that. That is one that really exacerbates the differences (between organizations)."
A couple of thoughts/questions. The international draft is going to be a huge administrative and financial undertaking. How will MLB verify the ages and identities of thousands of players all over the world who might be drafted? How will this affect teams like the Rays who have already invested significant funds in academies in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Brazil? What will the age and eligibility requirements be for potential international draftees?

As to the hard slotting, can someone explain to me how the MLB Players Association can negotiate the salaries of individuals who are not members of said union? With the draft going international, are other countries going to allow Donald Fehr in New York to set the future salaries of their young citizens? Something tells me there will be a lawsuit or two over hard slots.


  1. Good questions, but it all quite workable and long overdue. The lack of an international draft has resulted in too many unchecked, back door deals overpaying young foreign talent for years. It will bring all amatuer players eligibility in line with that of U.S. players.

    Regarding hard slotting, the slots are for signing bonuses in a given round, not salaries. The MLB Players Association will negotiate hard draft round slots no differently than the myriad of other issues negotiated on behalf of players not yet members of the union.

    I think "over the top" signing bonuses, the most recent being that of Stephen Strasburg, have been bringing the union and MLB closer to agreement on hard slots. A player, who has yet to throw a professional pitch, has taken money out of existing players wallets and miffed the owners once again.

    Now that's a recipe for mutual agreement!

  2. Hi Gary,

    You're right, I should have used 'bonuses' instead of 'salaries' in the last paragraph.

    My question is really why slotting is necessary. Aren't the teams that all supposedly want this the same teams that paid all those "ridiculous" bonuses in the past? Did someone put a gun to their head?

    And the MLB players that want to keep the money in their pockets, didn't a lot of them get big signing bonuses? So it was ok when they got the money but not the new kids?

    I understand everything you are saying re slotting. I just think both sides are trying to blame agents and greedy kids, when no agent has ever forced a team to pay one nickel and the MLB players were yesterday's greedy kids.

    I also have a hard time believing a court would uphold one group (the MLBPA) negotiating away another group's (draftees) rights to freely negotiate the terms of their employment contracts. And to say the MLBPA is representing 'future' MLB players is a real stretch, how many draftees ever reach a 40-man roster? And remember, if you add international players to the draft, it's going to be more than the current 50 rounds, so the percentage of draftees making MLB is going to be even less.

    Imagine some player comes along in a few years who is a carbon copy of Strasburg. Instead of Strasburg money he gets say a $1 million bonus. You don't think he's going to sue the MLBPA for breach of fiduciary duty for negotiating away millions of dollars of his money while they were supposedly representing his interests? Proving losses might be hard, but showing that they didn't act in his best interests wouldn't be.

    As far as the international draft, I don't have a problem with it, I just don't know feasible it is. Look at what a bang up job MLB has done investigating backgrounds and ages of foreign players so far. And depending on what the eligibility standards are for the international draft, it seems certain they will have to investigate many more players than they do now, basically every player who is eligible will have to be investigated. Can they really pull that off? I'm doubtful. It's not the idea I have a problem with, it's the details.

    Anyway, thanks for the input Gary.

  3. Hi, and back to ya, Doug,
    I'm new to RaysProspects and not sure where or in what form to discuss issues. So, if this isn't the place, please let me know.

    A few thoughts:

    Why is a hard slot necessary?

    Well, it isn't, but better in the long run for both MLB and more advantageous to a wider number of prospective ballplayers entering the draft. IE. A college senior, drafted in the 10th round has no leverage to "return to school" rather than sign for "senior money". He will routinely sign for, at best, 1/2 the signing bonus of an underclassman in the same round. It happens throughout the draft every year dozens of times. A high school player taken in the same round, same tools, same position, will sign for noticeably more than the college underclassman.

    The "ridiculous" bonuses have been paid by a small number of teams through the years. And although many have worked out, there have been more than a few Mark Prior results. A fine pitcher, certainly, but his injury laden career, on balance, didn't measure up to the signing bonus.

    The more prevalent side of the soft slot is teams taking advantage of players by seeking pre-draft deals, offering well below the soft slot to get out cheap. A projected 3rd rounder, agreeing to sign for 2nd round money, if he's drafted in the first round is a good deal for the 3rd rounder. Not such a good deal for the projected 1st rounders.

    There is a gun to no ones head in either situation. As with all of us in life, if an accepted pay scale is unacceptable for a prospective job, seek your fortunes elsewhere.

    While it's true that many players did get "big signing bonuses", hardly any got the "ridiculous" bonuses we're talking about. Any many more of the "new kids" will recieve that type of bonus if the "ridiculous" bonuses are no longer a part of the formula.

    I am blaming neither agents nor the kids. There is no blame. I simply feel that the current system can be vastly improved by taking "greed" (if that's the right word), by ALL parties, out of the formula with a comprehensive, structured slotting of signing bonuses based on the round in which a player is taken.

    Regarding the courts:

    I believe that an agreed upon contract, by the union and management, and ratified by vote of the players would be sound in the courts.

    Anyway, thanks for the response, Doug. It's a great topic that many will be weighing in on throughout Baseball before a decision is made.

  4. In the "for what it's worth department", for some unknown reason, when clicking on my name above, rather than going to my site, gmail took me to a Bible School site, Maybe sopmeone's trying to tell me something. lol

    Anyway, with this post, the problem may be solved.

  5. Gary,

    We seem to be the only ones interested in this topic, which is suprising. When I click on your name I get Garys Players, so it must be fixed. Maybe Google was just trying to tell you something. :) Oh, and I wasn't directing the comments about greed and ridiculous at you, I'm aiming squarely at MLB and the MLBPA for what I see as self-serving and hipocritical positions. I'm a fan of minor league baseball, and lining the pockets of millionaires and billionaires at the expense of kids gets me a little worked up.

    As far as it being better for MLB, of course it is, do they ever do anything that isn't to their advantage?

    For college seniors, yes they do get lower bonuses because of no leverage. But why should their bonuses be propped up at others' expense? They were once HS players and college juniors, if they wanted leverage they should have played well enough to get drafted when they had more leverage. And, just as a note, another reason they get less money is they are older and closer to their ultimate ceiling. With younger players part of the bonus is betting on their potential to become better. A high school player with roughly the same skills/tools has more of a chance to improve than a college SR. While it's a risk, and not a very good one, teams have certainly been willing to take it for the last 20 years give or take.

    As far as the current system with 'recommended' slots, I agree it's not good. Teams the reach over-slot deals have to notify the comm's office and wait to announce the deals until closer to the deadline. This results in the best players not getting to play the year they were drafted, which hurts their development and ultimately the team that drafted them too (by having a player they spent a ton of money on lose a years experience/pro development).


  6. PART 2.

    If slotting were a good idea for everyone, why wouldn't the teams just all do it on their own? Why do they need the CBA to impose it? In my opinion it's just a sham to drive down costs for the 'good of the game.'

    I'm not sure I follow your comment about MLB players not getting big bonuses back when they were drafted. Ridiculous bonuses have a long history, remember Brien Taylor? Other than the oldest MLB players, almost all of them were drafted in the era of 'ridiculous' bonuses.

    As far as slotting spreading the money out more evenly amongst the draftees, clearly it would. My question is would the total $ of bonuses in a hard-slot draft be more or less than under the current system? I'll bet $5 is will be less. It will be portrayed as 'more fair', but it's really just to cut costs for owners. And, if spreading the money more evenly was truly in the best interest of the sport, I wonder why the MLBPA doesn't advocate it at the major league level? Take some of AROD's money and divy it up between the backup catchers. Put a ceiling and a floor on major league salaries. I'm sure the MLBPA will get right on that, for the 'good of the game'.

    On the courts, who knows, I'm not an employment/labor lawyer. But if there is ANY possible way to stop this in court, I'm sure Scott Boras and friends will be salivating for the fight. Which brings up another question, other than the courts, what will guys like Boras do? Japan and Indy ball are options, but not great ones. We may not like Boras and other agents, but I think we can agree they are smart and won't take this lying down. Whether it's for their share of the money or truly for their clients' interests, they will fight back.

    Here's another question, let's assume both the international draft and hard-slotting are agreed to and US courts say it's ok. What if someone who doesn't necessarily like the US and enjoys media attention (I don't know, maybe Hugo Chavez of Venezuela) passes a law in his country that all players from his country must be paid $X as a bonus. Which law prevails, US or Venezuelan? Would MLB just stop drafting players from that country? If enough countries did it, it would remove the international from the international draft. Maybe a little far fetched by me, but maybe not. Some dictators would rather get attention than worry about some 16 year-old kid getting millions of dollars and leaving the country to pay US taxes.

    While I'm off on tangents here's another one: why isn't their a MINOR league baseball players union? There would be thousands of possible members paying dues. If unions are formed to represent minimum wager workers, certainly it would be viable for minor league baseball players (I know, they don't make much more than minimum over the course of a year). Just seems odd to me. Truth be told, I'm about as anti-union as anyone, but when it comes to the kids who play minor league ball, my bias towards the kids outweighs my bias against unions. Curious if anyone knows why they've never organized, I don't think I've ever seen an article about the subject.

    Looking back at this comment, I'm apparently for: HS players, college juniors, minor league players, Hugo Chavez, Scott Boras, international courts of law, and a minor league union. And against: slotting, Bud Selig, MLB owners, major league players, the MLBPA, and college seniors. Busy day for me, think I need a nap.

    And again Gary, none of this is directed at you, you're just the only one besides me talking about it! Off to watch college football.

  7. Doug:

    I don't see why hard slotting would be so hard for a court to understand. There has been no challenge to the 7 year long minor league contracts that are kin to indentured servatude. Where is there representation for those minor league players for contracts that pay less than minimum wages.

  8. Hey all, this is my week from heck, so please accept my apology in advance for not responding to your comment(s) in a timely fashion.

    As to the latest Anon re the courts: First, I really should ask some of my friends who are labor/employment lawyers for their perspective. Really.

    Second, it just keeps bugging me that a union that does not represent the rights of those for whom they are negotiating (in this context, MLBPA for draftees not signing MLB contracts), can set those draftees contract terms.

    As to to seven (or six, depending how you look at it) milb years, I agree, it hasn't been challenged (that I am aware of, PLEASE tell me if you know of such a case!1!). Again, I'm beat, but my guess would be the typical guy with 5, 6, 7 years of milb doesn't have the money or potential (for the agent/lawyer) to pursue this. The minor league player can't pay for it, and the agent/lawyer may not want to upset the boat. Again, all conjection without a specific case. And remember, everyone of these players actually SIGNED the contract, so you are out of the MLBPA's agreement into the actions of the minor leaguer in signing the contract.

    I can still see some ways around this, as far as a class action, but those are WAY above my lawyerin' skills, and when you add in the labor laws, well...

    I really, once things settle down on the home front, need to get some atty's on both sides of labor law to weigh in on this. I don't have a problem with the MLBPA setting the rules for folks entering into an MLB contract upon being drafted as such, for example (one or two or so per year?). I assume that would past mustard. Immediately added to the 40-man, covered by the MLBPA, seems reasonable.

    It's the kid picked in the bottom of the 1st round who is offered a minor league contract that bothers me. Given that we all follow the Rays, let's assume a HS toolsy outfielder NOT named LW. Why should the MLBPA choose/negotiate his signing bonus when he is years away from MLB, and is never guaranteed to get to MLB?

    Can MLBPA negotiate anything related, even slightly, to MLB players (such as milb players, who broadcasts games, the price of parking, the seating charges in milb, etc.)? I would think not. How do they have standing to do so?

    Admittedly, some of my examples above are ridiculous, but I stand by my assertion that the MLBPA should not be able to set the bonuses/prices of people not related to the MLBPA in a direct way.

    Perhaps this all just goes back to my siding with the little guy (milb players), and the little teams (Rays affiliates), but I truly do not understand why the MLBPA should have any role in the signing bonuses of any player/person that they clearly do NOT represent the best interests of.

    If I am WAY off base here, please point me to the laws/decisions that prove me wrong.

    Remember, if the ORG'S alone had made a decision regarding the compensation of free agent MLB players... COLLUSION!!!! Hundreds of millions of dollars would/have change/d hands.

    But when we simply want to reduce the costs associated with signing these unproven draftees, the MLBPA (presumably their future representative and advocate, assuming they make the cut) is on board? Why?

    OT: I have to go make hundreds of copies of something not related to this, and then burn a bunch of CD's, and then mail all of this, so I have to go. But, as I said before, educate me if I am wrong, it just doesn't feel right given my education/experience in the law.

    With that, I am off to work the copier! And I will follow up with the labor lawyers that I am familiar with, just, if nothing else to see if I'm off-base, and more importantly to see if there is something that can be done to help future Rays org players/milb players in general. - Doug

  9. Doug:

    Actually, I think we are in agreement on the issue of the MLBPA negotiating for minor leaguers. Its ridiculous and frankly self serving in my opinion. It seems to me that the "Major League" players from whom the MLBPA Association executives get their income, would want to make it difficult for the minor leaguers to move up through the system. So, it serves both the major league players and their union to keep salaries for the minor leaguers as low as possible to make it as hard as they can.....and make no mistake, being a minor league player (I'm speaking of those that don't get $250 signing bonuses) is no cake walk.

    on the other hand, I also think it is equally ridiculous that a club owner has to cough up a 7 figure signing bonus for some "toolsie high school shortstop, pitcher, etc just because they make the kid a first or second round pick. Until any player proves they can make it I just don't understand why club owners are forced to pay such exorbidant amounts of money for something that is so unproven.

    If it sounds like I'm playing both sides of the fence I'm really not. What I am saying is that the system is broken. I am truly a capitalist so I don't think every draftee should get an equal bonus. But, it also seems reasonable to me that all minor league players in thier first 6 (or 7 depending on how you count) get paid a reasonable wage. Paying a AA player +/- 2 grand a month for 12-15 hour days (not counting the times spent in a bus) with 3 or 4 days off a month is near slavery. If you do the algerbra a minor league player makes about $3.00 per hour. What kind of union negotiates for those kinds of wages for their members????? The MLBPA has no business representing minor league players.

    Oh and by the way, I'm sure you are aware that unless a draftee signs a major league contract, all minor leaguers sign the same standard minor league contract. They have no choice in the matter. If you don't sign that contract you simply don't play. So, to say the drafees have some cuplability in the situation because they signed the contract doesn't really hold water very well.

  10. I think we are in agreement on most things too. Especially the low pay for most minor leaguers. I look at the minor leaguers as the raw materials for the MLB industry. If they succeed, the MLB team gets a great product for a relatively low cost. So wouldn't it make sense to help the minor leaguers succeed?

    You would thinks so. But outside of guys drafted in the first 10 rounds (so 80% of draftees, plus non-drafted minor league free agents) they have very little bonus money from the draft and are paid very little. Why does this matter? Because the raw materials are professional athletes. In order for them to succeed, they need certain things: training, equipment, nutrition.

    Just looking at nutrition alone, given the minimal pay and $20 meal money while on the road, how well can they eat? Remember, these are young guys who burn up a lot of energy, so they need a lot of food. What kind of food can they afford on $20/day on the road plus whatever their minimal salaries allow at home, plus there's the offseason? Not the best food, that's for sure. Given their schedules and the small towns they tend to play in (in a big city there are lots of stores with healthy foods at reasonable prices, not so much in small rural towns), you're looking at a lot of fast food on $20 a day. Not exactly the ideal diet for maximizing the potential of a professional athlete, the MLB's raw materials. And that's just nutrition, try affording a personal trainer in the offseason on their pay.

    The only thing I still disagree with is that the owners are 'forced' to pay the ridiculous bonuses to the higher picks. As I've said before, the owners can choose to pay whatever they can get done, it's a mutually agreed upon contract between the two parties. Now, practically can a single owner/team drop much below slot, no. They wouldn't sign anyone in the top rounds.

    But look at what the Rays did this year, passed on the demands of the 1st and 2nd picks, and spent extra on some of the picks in rounds 3-10. It's a gamble of course, but if it pans out, why couldn't other owners/teams do the same? After all Mr. Selig said pretty much all the teams want reform, so why can't all the owners adopt a more conservative approach to signing bonuses?

    I guess I just doubt the veracity of Bud Selig. I feel that what he says is often more of his initials than the truth. Perhaps I'm wrong, but the evidence (teams don't want big bonuses, but teams voluntarily pay big bonuses) tends to support me on this.

    Thanks again for your input, it's an interesting discussion. In the end, I imagine the millionaires and billionaires will prevail over the kid getting less than minimum wage, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't point out the hypocrisy of what they say vs. what they do.