NEW YORK – Major League Baseball made what was termed a “final offer” for an international draft, increasing proposed money for the first year in 2024 by $10 million on Sunday to $191 million.
The move came one day after the players' association made a proposal that remained at $260 million and left the sides far apart heading into a Monday night midnight EDT deadline for a deal.
Because an international draft was tied in the March lockout settlement to dropping direct draft-pick compensation for qualified free agents, these negotiations will start to determine the market for a free agent group that includes Anthony Rizzo, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale and Charlie Morton.
While the loss of draft picks hasn’t inhibited teams from chasing top free agents since the current system began in 2012 — this year's group includes Aaron Judge, Jacob deGrom and Trea Turner — a slightly lesser level has been impacted. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel delayed signing in 2019 until June, after the draft pick compensation no longer was attached.
“We want to do whatever it takes for those guys to make sure they get good deals and get good contracts,” New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, part of the union's eight-man executive subcommittee, said Sunday. “But also we want to make sure that the guys that are entering the game, as well, are taken care of, are are put in a good situation in a good spot.”
The negotiating moves were disclosed to The Associated Press by two people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because public comments were not authorized.
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, up from $166 million in the 2021 signing period. MLB’s proposal contained hard slots, which for 2024 would assign $5,512,500 for the top pick to $2,625,000 for the 10th overall.
Players waited until early this July to make a counteroffer. They proposed a draft be allocated $260 million for the 2024 signing period, with teams having to guarantee slot values while having the flexibility to exceed them within bonus pools, the people said.
The union estimates spending on the amateur draft will be over $300 million by 2024. Players also proposed a deal include a guaranteed number of jobs and signings for international amateurs.
“Players have been willing to have a conversation, despite the fact that there are players on each side of the equation,” union head Tony Clark said before the All-Star Game. “But everyone can agree that the system that would need to be considered here, particularly in a draft world, needs to be much better than what is otherwise been contemplated to this point.”
An amateur draft was established for residents of the United States and Canada in 1965 and extended to residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico in 1990. The players’ association agreed to a structure of signing bonus pools with penalties that started in 2012, and international amateurs have been subject to a similar though different bonus pool system.
MLB pushed for an international draft in bargaining, arguing it would reduce corruption, especially in the Dominican Republic. MLB hopes a draft would eliminate players reaching agreements in advance of their eligibility to sign — either 16 or 15 if the player turns 16 later in the signing period.
“Our concern and I think this has been well documented over time is situations where clubs make commitments to players before they’re technically age eligible to sign, that there are individuals involved in those negotiations that take a piece of the really significant piece of the compensation that really should be going to the player off the top,” 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 deal with rules violations,” Manfred said. “You can investigate and try to find out what happened in each individual situation. We’ve tried that for a number of years — hasn’t worked very well. It’s just a lot of dealings that you have to chase down. The other way is through transparency, and that’s why we like the draft idea. If you don’t know which club is going to get the rights to the player, there’s no point in making an early deal, right?"
Union officials have said corruption is partially caused by teams willing to pay money in violation of the rules.
“It’s easy to say that it’s the people that cut the check, that they’re engaged in corruption,” Manfred said. “But somebody’s taking the check, right?”
If an international draft is not agreed to, a team signing a qualified free agent still would forfeit one or more picks in the next amateur draft and have its international signing bonus pool reduced.
No matter what, a team losing a free agent could gain an additional draft pick, depending on several conditions.
Some older players could find their markets limited if they refuse qualifying offers — last year’s figure was $18.4 million, the average of the top 125 contracts by average annual value.
A resolution is not expected until just ahead of the deadline.
“At least from my point of view, we're still not there,” Lindor said.
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