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MLB International Draft? Big Papi says “No”

With the international draft proving a flashpoint in negotiations on a new collective-bargaining agreement, Hall of Fame inductee speaks up against it… yet

Mar 8, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Former baseball players Alex Rodriguez (left) and David Ortiz attend the game between the Golden State Warriors and the LA Clippers at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Darren YamashitaUSA TODAY Sports

In the latest round of sparring between Major League Baseball’s owners and the MLBPA, the league wants to add an international draft in an attempt to create a more structured process by which teams can add young players hailing from outside of the United States.

Retired Boston Red Sox superstar David Ortiz, maybe the most prominent voice in Dominican baseball and formerly one of these foreign-sourced players, said in a telephone conversation with ESPN’s Jeff Passan that he is open to the idea of an international draft but that it should not be implemented without significant input from current and former players.

The draft proposed by Major League Baseball, which was completely unmentioned throughout the past three months, and has suddenly become the tinderbox that could scupper a deal to end the MLB's player lockout of players, would need several years of consultation before rolling out. By contrast, MLB has proposed bringing it in in 2024, giving less than 24 months to hammer out the dents in its workings.

"The Dominican is not the U.S. You can't snap a finger and everything lines up to operate the right way. We've got a new president who's trying to improve things. We need to do this slowly."

MLB has proposed a draft system that it says would guarantee more money for international talent than currently, where international amateurs are free agents with no restrictions on who they can sign with, but are limited by a hard cap of between $4 and $6 million per signing class.

One benefit of this type of draft, says MLB, is that the corruption that is endemic in the international market would have curbs put on it. Currently, it is not unusual to see kickbacks, early signings, and unscrupulous trainers plying teenage boys with PEDs.

"The Dominican is not the U.S. You can't snap a finger and everything lines up to operate the right way. We've got a new president who's trying to improve things. We need to do this slowly."

David Ortiz

Overall, within the players union support for the international draft is mixed. But with 30% of the league’s players coming from Latin America, this is seen by MLB as a vital part of the structure that they long for.

In a voice message sent to a group chat, obtained by ESPN and widely distributed amongst Dominican baseball players, Big Papi can be heard encouraging others "to lead a strong campaign opposing the draft.”

"Taking time, that makes more sense," Ortiz told Passan. "OK, guys, let's keep up this pace to do it three, four years from now. We sit down with the big-time players. We listen to what they have to say. If we're going to do it, let's do it right. Rushing it like this is not right.

"Baseball is such a big thing in the Dominican. Baseball keeps kids off the streets. We don't want that to walk away from us. We want it to get better. That's my focus. Nothing else.”

"At the end of the day, I don't want those kids to be affected by it. I already played baseball. I had a career. I care about the kids being treated right. I understand MLB wants to have control over everything they do, but you're not going to change the system overnight. Baseball is one of the secret weapons of the Dominican economy. If you talk about a draft here in the states, you have choices. You can do football, basketball. Dominican has baseball to make your way out. That's it. You have to be careful."

Amidst the smoke and controversy surrounding this opposition, which was perhaps unexpected by the league, MLB has announced that two more series have been cancelled and opening day is now April 14. Assuming, of course, that a deal can be done by then.


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