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Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Economist: Draft dodgers no more

Will a worldwide draft do to baseball in the Dominican Republic what it did to Puerto Rico?

Many buscones accuse MLB of selling out Latinos to protect American players’ jobs. They note there is just one Latino on MLB’s international-talent committee—who, as the son of an MLB player, mostly grew up in America. “I feel like we’re being invaded, like it’s 1965 all over again,” says Astin Jacobo, a buscón, referring to America’s occupation of the DR. “We’re only number one in one thing, and that’s baseball. We can’t give that away.”

A group of Dominican buscones has already held anti-draft protests. They might convince MLB to set up a separate draft for foreigners with an eligibility age of 16, which would be less disruptive than extending America’s draft abroad. But stopping the draft entirely will be hard.

Many buscones talk of a strike. But they have not formed a union. Even if they do, they could not stop their players from opting to sign with MLB teams.

That leaves the government. Felipe Payano, the sports minister, has already written a letter to Bud Selig, MLB’s commissioner, expressing his opposition to a draft. He says his office is investigating whether it might violate the DR’s free-trade agreement with America. Another option would be to sue MLB for collusion under Dominican antitrust law.

David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: February 02, 2012 at 01:10 PM | 63 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Gamingboy Posted: February 02, 2012 at 02:11 PM (#4052087)
I don't think it would have as much a effect in the DR as it did in PR. It still would have an effect, but I don't think it'd be as much an effect.

This, of course, assumes that MLB actually does a worldwide draft and that this isn't just lip service.
   2. Bug Selig Posted: February 02, 2012 at 02:50 PM (#4052122)
Yeah, buscones, threaten them.

Let's see - 100% of your business is selling supposed teenagers to MLB teams. 2% of their business is buying them. Your "boycott" will do what, exactly?
   3. Bitter Calculus Instructor Posted: February 02, 2012 at 03:03 PM (#4052133)
"Draft Dodgers no more" is pretty good fantasy baseball advice.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: February 02, 2012 at 03:44 PM (#4052173)
Can someone explain to me how the draft supposedly killed baseball in Puerto Rico?

Somebody (the NY Times I think, maybe the Wash Post) recently had an article on this very topic -- and never once came close to explaining how the draft supposedly killed baseball in Puerto Rico. The closest they came was saying that there was no high school baseball infrastructure in PR. But that was true when there was no draft which means there was some sort of baseball infrastructure to prepare kids through ages 16-17 -- what happened to that infrastructure, how was it killed by the draft, and why weren't they simply able to extend that infrasctructure to train kids an extra 1-2 years than they already were.

Or was it that, in the old days, instead of going to high school, 14-15 year-old kids did nothing but play baseball and the 20 lucky ones got signed, the buscones made money and everybody else was screwed? Once the buscones couldn't make money off the kids, the system dried up?

Everything I hear about the DR baseball system and buscones sounds somewhere between sleazy and abusive. Am I supposed to bemoan the loss of a system where a group of corrupt sleazeballs exploit thousands of kids to get jackpot kickbacks on a handful just so MLB can enjoy the exploits of an even smaller handful?

I know, I know ... the DR is not exactly overflowing with other career opportunities. Exactly.
   5. Cris E Posted: February 02, 2012 at 04:04 PM (#4052185)
I think it ruins the utility of MLB team-run academies. An international draft at age 18 blows the whole thing up since you can't sign the kids until 18, and there's no point in spending time and money on a guy if anyone else can just draft him two years in. From the kid's perspective, where in the DR can I play and get coaching before I turn 18?

The answer would be a series of third world, MLB-run academies, similar to what they put in Compton, where kids learn and mature and get drafted when they're old enough. The MLB academies might not be as good as some team-run ones, but they might be better than others. But it's a discussion worth having.

EDIT: I read the article. there is also this:
Moreover, whereas Puerto Ricans could previously be signed at age 16, a high-school degree (usually given at 18) is required for the draft. Since the island’s schools do not have baseball teams, its 16- and 17-year-olds had nowhere to train. As a result, the number of Puerto Rican MLB signings fell by 13% in 1991-92. Meanwhile, players from the Dominican Republic (DR) and Venezuela remained free agents. Their numbers soared (see chart).
   6. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 02, 2012 at 05:40 PM (#4052243)
#5 has it exactly right. MLB teams have the incentive in the DR and Venezuela not just to coach players, but to coach them for the specific purpose of someday making the major leagues. The draft proved to be a major obstacle in MLS in that the teams saw no benefit to building youth development academies since they were likely just creating a player for someone else. This put the US at a structural disadvantage to the rest of the world, and in soccer we already had too many of t6hose to begin with.

Skill intensive sports benefit greatly from skill intensive instruction. The draft removes the incentive for the latter.

I'd personally rather see the draft abolished than expanded. I think _long_ term it would be better for the sport if worse for the owners in the short term.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: February 02, 2012 at 06:37 PM (#4052287)
Moreover, whereas Puerto Ricans could previously be signed at age 16, a high-school degree (usually given at 18) is required for the draft. Since the island’s schools do not have baseball teams, its 16- and 17-year-olds had nowhere to train.

Why didn't they keep training in the same facilities they trained in at ages 14 and 15? Why was there incentive to have a non-school system to train players through the ages 15-16 (not everybody gets to sign at 16) before the draft but not at 17-18 after the draft? Those are some of the questions the article never answers.

What the quoted bit implies is that, given the requirement of a high school diploma, kids now have to spend enough time in school they can't play as much baseball as they used to. This is not generally considered a major social problem. One might even think that MLB was exploiting kids even more prior to the draft.

I think it ruins the utility of MLB team-run academies.

These haven't been in existence for very long (the earliest ones were 25 years ago but not too widespread -- even now only 28 teams have academies in the DR) and I'm not sure they were ever in existence in Puerto Rico. Also do kids enter these academies at 13-15 or after they sign at 16? Near as I can tell, it's after they're signed at 16 so teams aren't developing players that could be drafted away. Hold a draft at 16 and teams still have incentive to develop them from 16-18. Or hold it at 18 and they still have incentive to develop after drafting.

   8. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 03:38 AM (#4052567)
As much as I'm anti-draft in general, it's hard for me to feel much sympathy for the buscones. The D.R. has had 15 years to clean up its act, and yet teams are still losing millions due to fraud, etc. If there's anywhere on Earth that a draft might help, it's the D.R. The baseball system there needs a lot more transparency.

#5 has it exactly right. MLB teams have the incentive in the DR and Venezuela not just to coach players, but to coach them for the specific purpose of someday making the major leagues.

But the draft wouldn't remove this incentive. Teams would simply coach players after drafting them rather than after signing them as free agents.

Despite an increasing amount of media coverage in recent years, there's still a widespread misconception about MLB teams' "academies" and operations in the D.R. Teams don't bring kids in off the street and teach them baseball; rather, the academies are simply D.R. versions of spring training complexes for players who have already signed pro contracts. The facilities are also used for tryouts, but that's mostly a matter of convenience. Unsigned players are only allowed to stay at an academy for up to 30 days, and no one is learning baseball in that amount of time. At best, such periods are just extended tryouts for players who have already been identified as having pro potential.
   9. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 07:16 AM (#4052600)
Walt Davis: I thought I explained this in the article, but I guess I wasn't clear enough?

When the draft began in 1965, only Americans were eligible. But 25 years later MLB extended it to Canada and Puerto Rico. In theory, this should not have affected the number of Puerto Ricans signed, since undrafted players become free agents, who can sign with any team they wish. But in practice, MLB clubs rarely sign them; they tell them to go to university and try their luck in the draft later on. The draft thus forced Puerto Ricans to compete with Americans for a fixed number of places.
Moreover, whereas Puerto Ricans could previously be signed at age 16, a high-school degree (usually given at 18) is required for the draft. Since the island’s schools do not have baseball teams, its 16- and 17-year-olds had nowhere to train.


Before the draft, there was no limit on how many Puerto Ricans a team could sign. After the draft, there was a de facto limit: only 1,500 players are taken, so if you're not one of the top 1,500 eligible players, you're out. Formally, teams COULD still sign undrafted amateur free agents, and I happen to think they should. But they won't do it. They tell you to play college ball and try again in three years.

Before 1990, teams would sign kids at age 16 and send them directly to the minor leagues. I'd have to check my notes, but if I recall Pudge Rodriguez got to the airport somewhere at age 16 and didn't even know how to ask where to pick up his bags. Now that they have academies in the DR and Venezuela, they're signed at 16, trained in the academies for a few years, and usually sent to the minors at 18-19. Puerto Ricans are at a huge disadvantage, because there are two ways to develop when you are 16 and 17: either you're in a Latin American academy (as in the DR and Venezuela), or you're playing high school baseball (as in the US and Canada). They can do neither, so they lose two critical years of training.
   10. Swedish Chef Posted: February 03, 2012 at 07:27 AM (#4052602)
rather, the academies are simply D.R. versions of spring training complexes for players who have already signed pro contracts.

Yes, but they can be signed at 16, there is nowhere to turn to if that age is raised to 18.
   11. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 09:15 AM (#4052616)
Yes, but they can be signed at 16, there is nowhere to turn to if that age is raised to 18.

If the signing age moves to 18, which is something I haven't heard seriously discussed, why wouldn't the same buscones continue training them, with an eye toward cashing in when players are 18 rather than 16?
   12. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 09:25 AM (#4052619)
If the signing age moves to 18, which is something I haven't heard seriously discussed, why wouldn't the same buscones continue training them, with an eye toward cashing in when players are 18 rather than 16?

Because they don't want to actually have to do anything for their money?

Do we really think the Buscones are capable of training anyone? I thought they were pretty much pure grifters.
   13. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 09:37 AM (#4052624)
12 — I mostly agree (there are a few decent buscones), but that furthers the point.

The D.R. was churning out hundreds of pro-caliber baseball players long before academies were built and long before the buscones secured a stranglehold on the business of training/representing players. If Dominican players were motivated by the possibility of signing for $5,000 to $20,000 back in the 1990s, then they'd presumably remain motivated to sign for $50,000 to $500,000 (or more) if a draft were implemented, even if the $50,000 to $500,000 is a reduction from what they could have gotten as free agents.
   14. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 09:55 AM (#4052635)
The D.R. was churning out hundreds of pro-caliber baseball players long before academies were built and long before the buscones secured a stranglehold on the business of training/representing players. If Dominican players were motivated by the possibility of signing for $5,000 to $20,000 back in the 1990s, then they'd presumably remain motivated to sign for $50,000 to $500,000 (or more) if a draft were implemented, even if the $50,000 to $500,000 is a reduction from what they could have gotten as free agents.

Well, the avg. minor league salary min $850 per month for A-, min $2150 per month for AAA, is real money in the DR. Why wouldn't they be motivated?
   15. Swedish Chef Posted: February 03, 2012 at 10:12 AM (#4052654)
Well, the avg. minor league salary min $850 per month for A-, min $2150 per month for AAA, is real money in the DR. Why wouldn't they be motivated?

Motivated players is one thing, but there need to be coaches and some organizational structure to give them an opportunity to play and train, and who is going to provide that? The players are motivated enough to jump at any chance, but someone has to provide that chance.

You can't just leave the talent to their own devices between 16 and 18, a critical period for development, and expect to have the same quality to pick from when the draft comes.
   16. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 10:16 AM (#4052658)
Which brings us back to my question from #11: If the signing age moves to 18, why wouldn't the same buscones continue training players, with an eye toward cashing in when players are 18 rather than 16?
   17. Swedish Chef Posted: February 03, 2012 at 10:26 AM (#4052670)
If the signing age moves to 18, why wouldn't the same buscones continue training players, with an eye toward cashing in when players are 18 rather than 16?

What kind of contract would they have to have with the player in order to recoup their costs then? In their current role as scouts/pimps they don't have to invest all that much. I don't think the right solution is to indenture the players to them.
   18. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 10:37 AM (#4052682)

You can't just leave the talent to their own devices between 16 and 18, a critical period for development, and expect to have the same quality to pick from when the draft comes.


Well, you'll have the same raw talent, but their development will certainly be delayed, and they may be later reaching the majors.

Of course, this being the DR we're talking about, they'll all just use their brother's/cousin's ID, and pretend to be two years older than they are, rather than two years younger, like they do now.
   19. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 10:47 AM (#4052697)
(deleted; double post)
   20. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 10:49 AM (#4052702)
What kind of contract would they have to have with the player in order to recoup their costs then? In their current role as scouts/pimps they don't have to invest all that much. I don't think the right solution is to indenture the players to them.

How or why would the costs change? Instead of training players from age 14 to 16, they could train players from 15 to 17 or 16 to 18.

Regardless, the costs to the buscones are low anyway. Last time I checked, per capita income in the D.R. was something like US$6,000. It doesn't cost that much to feed or even house a few players. The buscones often claim their expenses "force" them to charge 40 or 50 percent, but it's nonsense. A buscon who does a $1 million deal in the D.R. makes more money than an agent in the U.S. who does a $5M or even $10M deal.
   21. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 11:01 AM (#4052714)
How or why would the costs change? Instead of training players from age 14 to 16, they could train players from 15 to 17 or 16 to 18.

Are they training them at all today? Or just pimping to the MLB teams?
   22. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 11:06 AM (#4052723)
Are they training them at all today? Or just pimping to the MLB teams?

There's a wide variation. There are buscones who run full-fledged training facilities, and there are others who are little more than playground pimps who hit a few ground balls at a public field and then demand 40 percent of a kid's bonus.

The biggest problem in the D.R. is the government's complicity. The D.R. makes little effort to make sure kids stay in school, and it allows 14-year-olds to sign binding, years-long contracts with buscones. The D.R. gov't couldn't care less about the details, as long as the money keeps pouring into the D.R. economy.
   23. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 11:13 AM (#4052729)
There's a wide variation. There are buscones who run full-fledged training facilities, and there are others who are little more than playground pimps who hit a few ground balls at a public field and then demand 40 percent of a kid's bonus.

So, wouldn't the obvious solution, in case of a draft, be for MLB to establish preferential relationship with some of the more honest buscones? Give them some subsidies for the cost of the academy, send MLB and team personnel to teach there, etc., in exchange for them taking less of a cut from the players?

Seems like a win-win for everbody who's not a scum bag? The "good buscones" get a huge leg up on attracting talent (players will flock to "MLB approved" buscones, who take a smaller cut, the kids get training and a bigger % of their bonuses, and MLB keeps the talent pipeline open, probably for less total $ than the individual teams are spending now.
   24. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 11:24 AM (#4052741)
23 — The market is already somewhat having that effect, but most of the problems can only be solved via additional government action. MLB could start a league or program tomorrow that offers free instruction, but if a D.R. kid has already signed a contract with a buscon for a 40 percent cut, he'd still be on the hook. (MLB players can fire their agent at any time, while D.R. kids who sign with a buscon basically have no recourse.)

Meanwhile, on the U.S. side, the D.R. is one of those places where principle might obstruct progress. The union fights slotting tooth and nail, but a slotted D.R. draft would create the right incentives and solve a lot of problems.
   25. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 11:46 AM (#4052768)
The union fights slotting tooth and nail, but a slotted D.R. draft would create the right incentives and solve a lot of problems.

They didn't seem to fight slotting too hard in the recent CBA.
   26. Der-K: Hipster doofus Posted: February 03, 2012 at 11:53 AM (#4052780)
Joe - what do you think about the DPL (and splinter leagues)?
   27. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 11:55 AM (#4052785)
25 — That's true. The new draft rules do look a lot more like slotting than the rhetoric would have suggested.

26 — I've always thought the D.R. amateur baseball scene needed to become much more league-centric, so the DPL was a great start. It's unfortunate (but not surprising) that the DPL has already suffered defections, but over the long haul, more leagues = better.
   28. tshipman Posted: February 03, 2012 at 12:08 PM (#4052801)
It sucks because I don't think there's a solution that cuts out the buscones and doesn't hurt the kids in one way or another.


So, wouldn't the obvious solution, in case of a draft, be for MLB to establish preferential relationship with some of the more honest buscones? Give them some subsidies for the cost of the academy, send MLB and team personnel to teach there, etc., in exchange for them taking less of a cut from the players?


It also incentivizes and institutionalizes corruption. Who's to say the "good" buscones are still good 5 years from now? How do you monitor it?
   29. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 12:17 PM (#4052816)
It sucks because I don't think there's a solution that cuts out the buscones and doesn't hurt the kids in one way or another.

The simplest long-term solution is for the D.R. gov't to start to give a damn about the country's kids and to make sure they go to school, and then add sports programs including baseball. From there, I'm sure MLB teams would be more than happy to let Santo Domingo High and San Pedro de Macoris High use its fields for practice and/or games.

Failing that, there are plenty of fields in the D.R. at which leagues could be set up without buscones having any involvement (at least financial). But right now, buscones routinely co-opt public fields, to the point that they've probably monopolized them. So instead of paying $50 to play Little League like in the U.S., D.R. kids often have to promise some buscon 35 to 50 percent of any eventual bonus just to get on a field. It's absurd.
   30. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 12:19 PM (#4052818)
It also incentivizes and institutionalizes corruption. Who's to say the "good" buscones are still good 5 years from now? How do you monitor it?

If they're not doing the right thing, you withdraw the MLB approval and subsidies. You fix their take from the bonus, and pay the buscone and player directly when they sign.

You monitor ir by the quality of the players being produced. If the instruction sucks, the MLB scots will tell you by not drafting that guys players. It pretty self-enforcing. If they don't produce draftable players, their main revenue stream disappears.
   31. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2012 at 03:57 PM (#4053033)
Moreover, whereas Puerto Ricans could previously be signed at age 16, a high-school degree (usually given at 18) is required for the draft. Since the island’s schools do not have baseball teams, its 16- and 17-year-olds had nowhere to train.

But Dan, that makes no sense. They was an infrastructure and facilities that they were playing in until 16. These were non-school facilities. What prevents a kid from continuing to play baseball for 16-17 that didn't prevent him from playing baseball from 14-15.

If it was "profitable" to have a non-school system of development that ran through age 15-16 before the draft, why wasn't it still "profitable" to have a non-school system of development than ran two more years?

Again, what you are implying is that the need to stay in school to get a degree is keeping the kid from having enough time to play baseball, not the lack of school teams. Or too few kids are getting that HS degree and therefore ineligible.

I also don't see how the other explanation explains anything. They were just as much in competition with US (and DR, etc.) kids for team development money as they were before. (They were FAs which helped them.) As you note, teams could still sign them as undrafted FAs but choose not to. What does that have to do with the draft? They could have chosen to not sign them at 16 too -- why was it a good idea for them to sign many more kids at 16 than it is to sign them at 18 ... and how is that the result of a draft?

Again, the implication is that by "forcing" them to get a HS degree, MLB created the possibility of sending them to college to develop rather than the minors. So ... isn't that a good thing? Are they going to college to develop? Are they washing out baseball-wise in college at a faster rate than they would in the minors anyway?
   32. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2012 at 04:09 PM (#4053047)
And the same question was raised for the DR but folks miss something here....

It doesn't matter if the buscones are nothing more than pimps. There is some sort of "system" that is training Dominican kids through the age of 16. Why wouldn't that system continue to operate until they are 18? In fact, given the number of 18-19 year-old Dominicans passing themselves off as 16, apparently this system of training through 18 already exists. Whether this "system" is run by buscones or via some other process (which might be as informal as "kids spend all day playing baseball") doesn't matter. The question is why would a draft kill off this system, whatever this system is?

At 16, teams apparently didn't think Roberto Hernandez Heredia was worth signing. Roberto presumably continued to play baseball and at, what, 19 borrowed his cousin's identity and teams decided he had developed to the point he was worth signing.
   33. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2012 at 04:49 PM (#4053081)
And, to try to clarify, here is the sort of explanation that might makes sense ... except it's not clear to me that it's true. But as a hypothetical:

Buscones exploit kids and profit handsomely off of the current system. Therefore buscones provide the money to maintain an informal system of training through age 16. By instituting a draft limited to 18-year-old HS graduates then:

a) Development costs for the buscones would be increased while revenues would be stagnant at best.
b) The kids who would have signed at 16 but washed out by 18-19 now wash out before being drafted. This might further reduce revenues for buscones since fewer kids get signed.
c) The kids have to spend more time in school and less time playing baseball -- at 14-15 and 16-17 -- which slows their baseball development (while hopefully increasing their intellectual development ... would I be incorrect in assuming that a HS degree still goes a long way in the DR/PR?).

(a) and (b) lead to the demise of an existing exploitative development system that takes advantage of kids' dreams of playing in the majors while also keeping them out of school, all for the benefit of sleazeball buscones. If true, this would seem to be social progress even if it means less talent coming into baseball. Anyway, politically speaking, it's hard to sell this as a bad thing.

I would also believe the following:

a) The widespread decimation of the minor leagues in the 50s forced MLB to take on more of the development costs. (Or one can view farm systems as vertical integration.)
b) Competitive balance and possibly cost-control needs led to the institution of the draft in the US.
c) (a) and parts of (b) led to a slow but steady increase in college baseball programs.
d) (b) and (c) allowed MLB to offload some of the development cost onto college baseball (not nearly to the level football and basketball have of course). (Note, this possibly created opportunities for 16-20 year-old Latin Americans.)

All of those factors along with the increasing costs of signing PR and DR talent drive MLB's desire to broaden the draft's coverage. The only reason we haven't had international drafts until now is that it has to be part of the CBA and the owners haven't been willing to make sufficient concessions to the Union to achieve this. The challenge for MLB is to replace/maintain the current youth development systems in those countries as they replace buscone control with MLB control.

Either scenario boils down to the same thing. A draft (or maybe even just pushing things out to age 18) changes the cost/revenue picture for the buscones to the point where it's no longer profitable for them to maintain the existing development system and MLB has been too cheap to step in with a replacement.

If that's what's going on, I wish folks would simply say so (and provide evidence). Then at least it's clear -- the choice is between low-life pimps exploiting 14-year olds (buscones) or high-society madams (MLB) waiting until they're 18.
   34. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: February 03, 2012 at 06:10 PM (#4053137)
Walt Davis:

It's not a question of infrastructure and facilities. Puerto Rico is chock full of baseball fields (as I note to begin the piece). It's a question of training and development. Scouts in the DR and Venezuela sign 16-year-olds based on tools alone, knowing that they can make them into baseball players in 2-3 years at their academy. Puerto Ricans can't sign until age 18, and have to have the skills to go straight to Rookie ball. Since they don't have high school baseball, they have no way to acquire those skills. There was never really a "non-school system of development" in Puerto Rico for 14-15 year olds and there isn't now--there were just athletes playing in after-school leagues, whom teams could sign young enough to turn them into real prospects. The issue isn't time, it's access to dedicated coaching and top-level competition. The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School and the new Carlos Beltran academy there are the two new attempts to address this issue, but as the NYT article correctly noted it's hard to see how that solution is scalable.

A draft wouldn't kill off the development system, at least not immediately. It would reduce signing bonuses, which means that less money will flow to the buscones to fund their investments in housing, food, equipment, and staff. Moreover, unless a) teams suddenly become willing to sign undrafted free agents or b) they add enough rounds (either to the current Rule 4 or a separate international draft) to cover the 700 or so international amateurs a year that now sign contracts, it will cut the number of players entering organized ball.
   35. Tom T Posted: February 03, 2012 at 06:19 PM (#4053144)
I'm lost on how baseball has been hurt in PR. From observation, their Colt World Series team is always one of the best, and the Boricuas on campus are all strongly into baseball, and clearly with plenty of experience among them from playing and being well-coached. A former graduate student of mine was on the PR World University Games team, and his younger brother was drafted by the Rockies and, later, Mets out of a baseball academy in PR (after he'd spent a bit of time at Florida St., I believe). Based on their experiences, there seem to me to remain PLENTY of formal opportunities to be trained and to play baseball while growing up in PR (per Walt's larger point).

My gut feeling is that IF there is truly a reduction in numbers of draft-worthy players, it has more to do with the same factors as the reduction in numbers of kids playing baseball in the US --- other things they like to do! I would also suspect (and I think my former student would agree) that it costs a lot more to play these days...fancy bats (there are nuts spending $300 - $400 bucks for a bat for their 9-year-old Mustang player...those 5 extra feet don't really mean much when the BABIP is already .600!), league fees to cover grounds, lights, etc. I'm not sure how many pick-up opportunities might still exist in San Juan and the surrounding region....
   36. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 07:32 PM (#4053198)
There was never really a "non-school system of development" in Puerto Rico for 14-15 year olds and there isn't now--there were just athletes playing in after-school leagues, whom teams could sign young enough to turn them into real prospects.

But again, why didn't the after-school leagues simply expand to accommodate players up to age 18 rather than age 16?

The issue isn't time, it's access to dedicated coaching and top-level competition.

Not really. The average 17-year-old baseball player in Crosshairs, Texas, plays a 30- or 40-game schedule and is coached by the school's gym teacher. Elite travel teams and summer leagues might be more common now, but only a small percentage of the 1,500 players drafted each year come out of such programs. Given that Puerto Rico is smaller and is chock full of former pro baseball players, there should have been more than enough high-quality coaches to staff one or more island-wide amateur leagues that would have been far superior to the average HS or even JUCO league in the U.S. in terms of coaching.

It's easy for people in P.R. to blame the draft and ask MLB for subsidies, but baseball declined in P.R. for the same reason it has declined in the U.S.: As the standard of living increased in P.R. and kids had more options, fewer kids played baseball. P.R. is much, much more like the U.S. than the D.R. Teenage P.R. kids go to school, play video games, have jobs and girlfriends and cars, etc. P.R. kids (poor or otherwise) simply don't have to play baseball to get off the island, like poor D.R. kids do. P.R. kids simply hop a plane to the U.S.*

(*The decline of baseball in P.R. has also tracked with P.R.'s net migration rate. P.R. produced the most pro bb players back when the fewest people were leaving P.R.)
   37. puck Posted: February 03, 2012 at 09:09 PM (#4053229)
Elite travel teams and summer leagues might be more common now, but only a small percentage of the 1,500 players drafted each year come out of such programs.


Is that true, just a small percent of top high school age kids play for private clubs? I had been wondering about that.

I wonder what pct. of top high school basketball players play for AAU type teams.
   38. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 03, 2012 at 10:07 PM (#4053248)
Is that true, just a small percent of top high school age kids play for private clubs? I had been wondering about that.

The higher the round, the higher the percentage, but such teams definitely aren't the only way to be seen or drafted. Otherwise, MLB teams would cut back to 10 scouts and only cover the major showcases and tournaments.
   39. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: February 04, 2012 at 04:15 AM (#4053352)
Joe Kehoskie: The afterschool and weekend leagues do accommodate 16-and-17-year-olds (and older players as well). They're the only venue Puerto Ricans of those ages have. But they are not remotely a substitute for a proper high school baseball team, not to mention preparation at an actual MLB academy. They're not meant to train you to become a professional baseball player; they're simply venues to get kids together and play some ball.

Yes, there are enough knowledgeable baseball people on the island that a league like the one you envision could theoretically be set up. But it hasn't. And I suspect a big reason why it hasn't is that the competition to get drafted, and get a reasonable bonus, is too tough for the expected economic return on investing in such a league to be positive.

Puerto Rico's economic development most certainly is another factor, and one I mention in the story. But Puerto Rico was also far richer than the DR 20 years ago, and the gap between the two places then in terms of producing MLB players was far smaller than it is now. You just have to look at the graph (in the piece) and see what happened when the players that would have been drafted at age 16 in 1990-91 would have been expected to hit their MLB primes to see the draft's impact. Abolishing the draft outright, or, barring that, putting Puerto Rico in a separate foreign draft with the DR and Venezuela would not reincarnate the Alomar-Gonzalez-Rodriguez-Baerga-Martinez generation overnight. But it sure would be a good start.
   40. Joe Kehoskie Posted: February 04, 2012 at 05:28 AM (#4053355)
But they are not remotely a substitute for a proper high school baseball team, not to mention preparation at an actual MLB academy. They're not meant to train you to become a professional baseball player; they're simply venues to get kids together and play some ball.

The last sentence is true of probably 95 percent of the high school and college programs in the U.S. from which players are drafted by MLB teams.

Yes, there are enough knowledgeable baseball people on the island that a league like the one you envision could theoretically be set up. But it hasn't. And I suspect a big reason why it hasn't is that the competition to get drafted, and get a reasonable bonus, is too tough for the expected economic return on investing in such a league to be positive.

The overwhelming majority of kids who play Babe Ruth, American Legion, high school, and even college baseball in the U.S. know they have little or no chance of playing professionally, but they play anyway. It's hard to believe thousands of baseball-loving Puerto Ricans suddenly stopped liking and playing baseball because of the draft. It's a big leap from A to B.

Puerto Rico's economic development most certainly is another factor, and one I mention in the story. But Puerto Rico was also far richer than the DR 20 years ago, and the gap between the two places then in terms of producing MLB players was far smaller than it is now.

This might be true, but it still doesn't logically follow that the draft caused serious damage to baseball in P.R. It's illogical to assume that whatever percentage of players came from P.R. in 1990 was the "right" or "natural" percentage, and that any decline from that number is inherently problematic or unfair.

Aside from socioeconomic factors, the D.R.'s much higher population, and the increase in net migration from P.R., it's entirely possible, if not likely, that P.R. players — who, as U.S. citizens, didn't need a work visa — were overrepresented among MLB signees until the 1990s, when the number of U.S. work visas available to foreign players was substantially lower.

The discussion about P.R. is similar to the annual debate about the percentage of blacks in baseball. In 1975, over 25 percent of the players in MLB were black, and now that number is around 10 percent. Is the decline because of any nefarious intent on the part of MLB, or is it because black athletes have more options and because MLB teams are drawing from a much wider talent pool compared to the 1960s and '70s?

I'm not trying to give you a hard time here. This is an interesting topic, but it seems like some of the interested parties in the P.R. want people to buy into a storyline that isn't supported by hard evidence.
   41. Joe Kehoskie Posted: April 01, 2012 at 03:43 PM (#4094271)
This is about a week old now but I just ran across it. Since there were only a couple people seemingly interested the last time we discussed this, I figured I'd just post it here as a continuation:

Fangraphs — Rosenheck & Jonas: International Draft Issues

The part about Puerto Rico:

One of the big reasons the draft had such a devastating effect on Puerto Rican baseball is that it created this donut hole in the development system. In the old halcyon days of the 1980s you could sign these kids for $20 and ship them off to the minors when they were 16 years old. In the Dominican Republic, when you’re signed at 16 you go to a Major League academy for two or three years to play Dominican minor-league ball. You’re not shipped off to rookie-league ball in the United States until you’re ready.

In the US you have high school baseball — serious, organized high school baseball — that you play when you‘re 16, 17 and 18. The problem is that if you’re a 16-year-old Puerto Rican, who wants coaching and wants to get better, you have absolutely nowhere to go. You can’t play in high school and a team can’t sign or draft you. You have to play in impromptu weekend leagues where the focus is on trying to win rather than on teaching and developing skills. By the time you’re 18 it’s too late.

... leaves a lot of the same unanswered questions as in the discussion above in February.

Definitely an interesting topic. There's little doubt MLB wants a worldwide draft, but it seems like some possible negative effects are being oversold while other unintended consequences are being ignored.
   42. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 01, 2012 at 06:07 PM (#4094330)
There's little doubt MLB wants a worldwide draft, but it seems like some possible negative effects are being oversold while other unintended consequences are being ignored.


I would guess MLB really doesn't care.

If they reduce the international talent level 20-30%, but cut costs by the same, it's a win for them.

MLB is the highest level of baseball, a talent decline doesn't really threaten them in any way, unless it hits certain teams disproportionately. An MLB with 20% less int'l talent is indistinguishable to the fan.

Why do the owners care if they shift the rosters from 70:30 US:Int'l to 75:25? If some of that US increase comes from greater representation of US blacks, it might actually be a big PR win.
   43. Jay Z Posted: April 01, 2012 at 11:39 PM (#4094494)
I would guess MLB really doesn't care.

If they reduce the international talent level 20-30%, but cut costs by the same, it's a win for them.

MLB is the highest level of baseball, a talent decline doesn't really threaten them in any way, unless it hits certain teams disproportionately. An MLB with 20% less int'l talent is indistinguishable to the fan.

Why do the owners care if they shift the rosters from 70:30 US:Int'l to 75:25? If some of that US increase comes from greater representation of US blacks, it might actually be a big PR win.


I agree completely. MLB has no incentive to create a sport-wide academy except as a PR move. The individual teams have reason to compete with each other, but the draft will take that away. The DR is right to fight this, it will hurt their country and its people a lot.
   44. Sunday silence Posted: April 02, 2012 at 12:43 AM (#4094519)
But Puerto Rico was also far richer than the DR 20 years ago, and the gap between the two places then in terms of producing MLB players was far smaller than it is now.


this sentence was hard for me to understand, "{far smaller, "far richer? what exactly are you saying? I found it confusing that you are talking about two variables: GNP (or something; and production of MLB players. I think the problem lies in you're talking about two time periods as if they are similar; and the conjuction you use "and" keeps me thinking it should be "however" or "but" but however it is, I am confused.
   45. McCoy Posted: April 02, 2012 at 01:03 AM (#4094523)
Why do the owners care if they shift the rosters from 70:30 US:Int'l to 75:25? If some of that US increase comes from greater representation of US blacks, it might actually be a big PR win.

Because it would cost money? American players cost more. Older players cost more than younger players.

You cut back on foreign systems and that means the young talent supply is going to go into a trough for at least a little bit. When that happens MLB veterans will not be replaced as quickly as they do now which means more older players commanding higher salaries. More FA commanding higher salaries because teams have less young talent to replace them with. Filling minor league teams with homegrown talent is going to cost more than stocking it with foreign players. In 2010 48% of minor leaguers were foreign born. A 20 cut in foreign talent would be a huge and noticeable drop in talent for baseball. That is something like 50 major leaguers and 680 minor leaguers gone from the pool.
   46. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: April 02, 2012 at 01:22 AM (#4094527)
The simplest long-term solution is for the D.R. gov't to start to give a damn about the country's kids and to make sure they go to school, and then add sports programs including baseball.

Is the institution by which youth sports for public-school is run largely by the schools themselves common in Latin America? I thought it was one of the things that made the US different from most other countries. It certainly doesn't follow logically that "making sure kids go to school" would lead to quality school sports programs.
   47. Joe Kehoskie Posted: April 02, 2012 at 03:15 AM (#4094540)
Is the institution by which youth sports for public-school is run largely by the schools themselves common in Latin America? I thought it was one of the things that made the US different from most other countries.

There's wide variance from country to country. Cuba has a thousand flaws, but it might have the most interconnected school/sports system in the hemisphere, including the U.S. (Top athletes in a variety of sports are identified as young as 11 or 12 and funneled into special schools.) Mexico also has a lot of school-based athletics, as does (or did) Venezuela.

It certainly doesn't follow logically that "making sure kids go to school" would lead to quality school sports programs.

Agreed, but it would be a lot easier to pull off if the kids were actually in school and creating demand. Regardless, my main point back in February was that the D.R. needs to stop allowing thousands and thousands of young boys to drop out of school at 12 or 13 to focus on baseball, especially since only 1 or 2 percent of them will sign an MLB contract and cash a bonus check.

The D.R. also needs to crack down on the sleazy buscones. It's absurd that 11- and 12-year-olds can sign binding contracts that surrender 35 to 50 percent of any eventual MLB signing bonus to the first buscon who lays eyes on the kid. True amateur leagues will never develop and thrive as long as the buscones are allowed to put a stranglehold on players before they're even teenagers.
   48. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 02, 2012 at 09:24 AM (#4094588)
Because it would cost money? American players cost more. Older players cost more than younger players.

You cut back on foreign systems and that means the young talent supply is going to go into a trough for at least a little bit. When that happens MLB veterans will not be replaced as quickly as they do now which means more older players commanding higher salaries. More FA commanding higher salaries because teams have less young talent to replace them with. Filling minor league teams with homegrown talent is going to cost more than stocking it with foreign players. In 2010 48% of minor leaguers were foreign born. A 20 cut in foreign talent would be a huge and noticeable drop in talent for baseball. That is something like 50 major leaguers and 680 minor leaguers gone from the pool.


Maybe, but that's entirely within teams control, and, the owners prefer money going to MLBPA members, especially vets, than amateus, and especially to buscones. It makes labor negotiations easier. Also, a lot of those US replacements are going to be the AAAA all-star, who won't cost you any more than minimum anyway.

The 48% of minor leaguers that are foreign is a non-issue. Most of those guys are org. filler, and foreigners are over represented b/c $15G for 6 months work looks good to a Dominican or Venezuelan, and not so good to US residents.

My guess is the owners are thinking 1) we can contain costs, 2) all, or almost all, of the foreign stars and super-stars will get signed anyway, since the talent is obvious, 3) Foreign players may take an extra 2-3 years to develop w/o the academies, but, that will just mean to teams will get control of more of their prime years, so the loss is all on the player's side, 4) no fans will notice if 50 0-2 WAR foreign players (who average 1 WAR) are replaced by 50 0-2 WAR domestic players (who would average 0.8 WAR in today's talent level).

   49. McCoy Posted: April 02, 2012 at 10:02 AM (#4094605)
Most of those guys are org. filler, and foreigners are over represented b/c $15G for 6 months work looks good to a Dominican or Venezuelan, and not so good to US residents.


Which would mean that either the clubs will have to raise the pay for minor leaguers, lower the quality of the minor leagues, or severely cut back on the amount of minor league teams.
   50. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 02, 2012 at 10:22 AM (#4094616)
lower the quality of the minor leagues

This is the obvious answer. They'll get lower quality org. filler, either domestic or foreign, and no one will care.
   51. McCoy Posted: April 02, 2012 at 10:39 AM (#4094626)
If no one will care why do they have all those minor league teams now? Seems like a lot of money to waste for a very long time if it doesn't matter whether they are there or not.
   52. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 02, 2012 at 10:50 AM (#4094632)
If no one will care why do they have all those minor league teams now? Seems like a lot of money to waste for a very long time if it doesn't matter whether they are there or not.

Because there are ~15 guys on each team that are real prospects, and you want them to be able to play at the appropriate difficulty level, and the optimum position. You'll never have your prospects perfectly distributed so you can field Rookie, A-, A+, AA and AAA with only prospects, and have every position covered. Org. filler guys are there to round out the team.

If you contracted to 3-4 teams, to get rid of the filler, now you have to play guys out of position, or at a too easy or too hard level, or have prospects sitting on the bench.

Better to have more teams, play the prospects exactly where you want them (position and level) and field a bunch of guys you don't care about to round out the squads. No one, but no one really cares how good the org. filler is. If the quality of the org. filler drops, you just field older org. filler, to make up the quality gap. No reason you can't have 26 y.o. AAAA guys playing at AA and A+.
   53. McCoy Posted: April 02, 2012 at 10:57 AM (#4094640)
No reason you can't have 26 y.o. AAAA guys playing at AA and A+.

And you will have to pay him more.
   54. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 02, 2012 at 11:55 AM (#4094674)
And you will have to pay him more.

Sure, but $50K p.a. vs. $30K is a rounding error. We're not talking a lot of guys here. Odds are the quality levels falls very little at the "filler" level.

If you can shave the top int'l bonus your team pays each year from $2M to $1M, you can afford to hire a lot of filler.
   55. DL from MN Posted: April 02, 2012 at 12:07 PM (#4094688)
The ripple effects will push the poorer quality to the independent leagues. The St. Paul Saints will have a harder time finding 26 year old pitchers. A comparable paycheck in the affiliated minors is better than the same pay in the independent leagues. My guess is up to A+ will still be "development" but AA and AAA will continue to blur. Maybe some of those undrafted Dominicans and Puerto Ricans get to play rookie ball.
   56. McCoy Posted: April 02, 2012 at 12:08 PM (#4094689)
If you cut foreign talent by 20% you have to replace about 700 players. At 20k difference that is 14 million dollars a year
   57. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 02, 2012 at 12:27 PM (#4094702)
If you cut foreign talent by 20% you have to replace about 700 players. At 20k difference that is 14 million dollars a year

You'll won't lose 700, you'll just have a lower quality 700.
   58. McCoy Posted: April 02, 2012 at 12:29 PM (#4094704)
You'll won't lose 700, you'll just have a lower quality 700.

From where?

You just said they will be paying more money for players to play in the league. Well, there are thousands of jobs at the minor league level. 7,000 players at a $1,000 pay raise is 7 million dollars. $5,000 is 35 million dollars.
   59. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 02, 2012 at 12:50 PM (#4094710)
From where?

You just said they will be paying more money for players to play in the league. Well, there are thousands of jobs at the minor league level. 7,000 players at a $1,000 pay raise is 7 million dollars. $5,000 is 35 million dollars.


From the same place they come now. Most org filler guys get next to no bonus. $3K/month in the US still looks good to most Latin ballplayers

Only a tiny handful of guys will get a pay raise; AAAA guys need to fill in at AA.

Again, no one cares if the quality of the minor leagues declines.
   60. DL from MN Posted: April 02, 2012 at 01:24 PM (#4094733)
You'll won't lose 700, you'll just have a lower quality 700.

From where?
There are 13 teams in the American Association. 8 in the Atlantic League. 14 in the Frontier League. 10 in the North American League. 6 in the Pecos League. 5 in the CanAm league. I think you can find 700 guys to fill out the rosters from those 55 teams.
   61. Joe Kehoskie Posted: April 02, 2012 at 02:59 PM (#4094821)
The discussion from #42 to #45 and then from #48 to #60 is interesting but mostly seems irrelevant. I don't believe a worldwide draft would change the demographics of MLB or MiLB in terms of the ratio of U.S.-born players vs. foreign-born. With per capita income in the D.R. at something like US$6,000 per year, even a no-bonus MiLB contract is going to look good to D.R. players for a long time into the future.

I believe the biggest potential impact would be to slow or end the expansion of baseball into emerging markets. With a worldwide draft, there would be little or no incentive for an MLB team to be pioneering, since some other team could simply sit back, read about a player in Baseball America, and then draft him without having lifted a finger or invested any time or money (beyond, perhaps, buying a plane ticket for a scout). With a worldwide draft, it would be nuts for teams to spend money in places like Venezuela (Astros), Brazil (Rays), China, etc., since the industry would reap the benefits rather than the individual team(s) that spend the money and do the work.
   62. DL from MN Posted: April 02, 2012 at 03:07 PM (#4094830)
it would be nuts for teams to spend money


It would be nuts for them to spend money individually. It would still make sense for them to spend money collectively. They are a cartel after all.
   63. Joe Kehoskie Posted: April 02, 2012 at 03:15 PM (#4094838)
Right, but if this is truly about saving money, then it's hard to imagine a substantial amount of collective spending would result. The argument seems to be that teams want to save money on amateurs so they can either pocket it or reallocate it to Major League players. I doubt many teams would want to take the savings and then give a big chunk of it to MLB to run foreign academies.

As a related example, teams could save millions of dollars every year if they ditched team-employed scouts and went with a bigger Scouting Bureau, but the teams all believe they can do better than a collective. This is the mentality that created the current system internationally.

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