MLB International Draft Will Affect Dominican Republic

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic. Like many kids on this baseball-crazed island, Friedel Liriano wanted to sign with a Major League Baseball team and eventually play at the highest level. This could earn him and his family life-changing money.

So, at age 12, he says, he left school and his home in Sabana Grande de Palenque, a municipality southwest of Santo Domingo, to live and train in a private academy east of the nation’s capital that trained Raphael Devers, Boston’s star third baseman.

“It was hard,” he said in Spanish, adding later: “You have to take the risk. I loved studying, but I also loved baseball and I wanted to follow my dreams.”

The bet seemed to pay off when Liriano, shortstop known for his solid throwing arm and strength at the plate, and his coach Javier Rodriguez said they had reached a verbal pre-agreement – preacuerdo, as it’s called here in Spanish – with the Texas Rangers for $1.5 million.

At the time, Liriano was 15 years old, which was less than the minimum legal age of 16. rules governing the international amateur market. But in the long race to find the next great talent, Major League Baseball clubs are increasingly — and this is alarming to many critics — hitting these preaquerdos., sometimes with children under 12.

Liriano said he understood there was a risk of an unwritten and unenforceable pact, but he never expected what would happen next: when the time came to formally sign Liriano, the Rangers did not. Rodriguez said he later learned it was because the Rangers no longer had a place in their international bonus pool. $5.3 million.

“To promise to fulfill a dream to a child who has struggled and worked all his life to achieve it, and at the end to say: “No, there is nothing,” this is something very disappointing,” Liriano said.

Liriano, who sued the rangers, while claiming discrimination and breach of contract, said the Rangers never explained why. Citing unfinished business, the Rangers declined to comment via a spokesperson. But the practice is one of the things that MLB and its players’ union – and many others not formally part of either group – are hoping to prevent as they discuss how to redesign how international players enter affiliated baseball.

Monday – Deadline to agree – or not – to create the first-ever international amateur draft. With MLB and the union in contentious negotiations over a new labor deal during the offseason, the international draft had to be delayed until now so as not to delay the regular season. The project will put an end to the international amateur free agency.

“The draft is the best thing that could happen to a Dominican right now,” Rodriguez said. “The first child in the class of 2024 to reach an agreement is one of mine. But this is my business. And if I don’t do it, someone else will.”

MLB effectively offered the union a trade: the introduction of an international draft in 2024, which MLB has long wanted but the union has long resisted, in exchange for abolishing the qualifying offer system that ties draft picks to top free agents, something the union believes has hurt the market value of these players.

The league and union differ in details and dollar amounts, for example, as of Sunday evening, $191 million versus $100. Just $260 million for draft-eligible players, according to a person familiar with the talks, not authorized to discuss it publicly, but they appear to be set on a 20-round draft. If a deal is not reached, the status quo will continue and the collective bargaining agreement will be struck without stopping the game.

While the international draft will affect all countries outside of Canada and the United States, the Dominican Republic, as a center of baseball talent that has produced more players than any country outside of the United States, has been a driving force in the discussion.

“We’ve talked to both sides,” said Junior Noboa, Dominican National Baseball Commissioner, referring to MLB and the union — two groups that have spent a lot of time on the island talking to players, government officials, coaches, agents and others involved. .

“At the end of the day, this is the decision they’re going to make for the baseball industry,” said Noboa, a former MLB player who runs the Arizona Diamondbacks and owns a private baseball academy. “And together with us, we hope that the industry will continue to grow and that it is a pure business that will benefit young people who sign contracts and involved teams who are investing heavily in all of Latin America, but in a special way in our country”.

preacuerdos speed several coaches said they accelerated after a 2017 labor deal that placed severe caps on international contract signing bonus pools, giving teams a window into how much they’ll have to spend going forward.

Jaime Ramos, the coach who helped catcher Gary Sanchez earn a $3 million signing bonus with the Yankees in 2009, said the rule change was like lighting a match “and it burned everything.”

A side effect, according to several instructors, was that the preacuerdos rejuvenated the market, making it harder for unsigned players aged 16 and over to get the attention of scouts or secure a contract. “If you’re not selling 13 or 14 year olds, that’s a problem,” Rodriguez said.

When asked what they thought of the international draft over the past few months, several MLB players said they wanted to know more or declined to answer. A few more people against the call.

“It’s not just the draft that’s the problem; it’s the people,” said Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, a senior trade unionist and Puerto Rican native who preferred players to pick their own teams. “These are the people who use it. Because when drafted, there will still be people who receive large percentages of bonuses. How can we fix this system?”

Vander Franco, the Dominican shortstop who signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for $3.85 million at age 16 — and signed a $182 million extension last year — was against the draft and said it would be harder for younger players to get paid early to help their families. . However, he added, “the system needs to change because scouts are looking at 14-year-olds.”

Preacuerdos is not the only reason players and officials want reforms. Despite MLB’s efforts to improve its identity verification process or launch a coaching program that includes steroid testing, the world is largely unregulated and often informal. Anyone can become a coach and agent. They don’t have to be certified by a union that oversees agents in the US and caps fees at 5 percent.

MLB said the draft could help put an end to concerns about malfeasance (such as big cuts by coaches on player bonuses – up to 50 percent – or side deals) and about performance-enhancing drugs given to teenagers to secure contracts.

Ramon Peña, a former Cleveland Guardians and Mets executive and scout who has signed many of the DR’s top MLB players, said he came to terms with the draft after initially opposing it.

“There is a lot of corruption in intelligence,” he said. “It’s between scouts and coaches. I think the draft could eliminate that, or some of it.”

Several trainers echoed the comments of Tony Clark, the head of the union, who said in March that the problems with the current system “have a lot to do with those who cut checks.”

The education of Dominican children was also frequently mentioned. They rarely graduate from high school before signing with an MLB club, and domestic amateur players are selected after graduating from high school.

“Definitely we need more education,” said Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals’ star outfielder. Adrian Beltre, a former multi-team star, added: “Draft or not, exploitation of young children, the fact that they sell 11 or 12 year olds, I don’t like that. It’s not right that you take children out of school.”

Many people in the DR are also finding ways to get some of the player bonuses. Some lend money – at interest – to the families of players who have verbal agreements, and thus they expect a future salary. According to Rodriguez, the Liriano family took out loans, but the bonus never came. At 18, Liriano remains at Rodriguez’s academy and is unsigned.

While Noboa said the Dominican government does not have an official position, in a recent interview he made several references to how the project could improve the current system “a lot” because “you don’t know which organization you’re going to sign.” With.”

A tenor at La Marina, a public baseball stadium in Santo Domingo, was strongly opposed to the draft on a recent morning. Rafael Baez, whose baseball league has 300 kids aged 5 to 12, and Franklin Guerrero, one of his coaches, feared that US officials wanted more control over the process, that secret deals would continue, that there would be no formal structure like baseball. secondary school. According to them, the Dominican players will have fewer opportunities.

“It’s a headache for us if a draft is thrown in this country,” Baez said. “Firstly, there are no conditions for conscription in this country. Second, we see what happened in Puerto Rico. After they put the project in puerto ricoUnfortunately, the production of players professionally and from a major league perspective has fallen to the floor.”

Whether the project is approved by Monday or not, several instructors and officials once noted a slowly growing sense of support.

“I’m surprised to hear that a lot of the principled private academies that sign big players are in favor of the draft,” Noboa said. “They may have a few questions, which is normal, but I feel like there’s more support than there used to be.”