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International draft debate highlights distrust between MLB players and owners

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Syndication: USA TODAY Patrick Breen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Thursday is the 99th day that MLB has been 86’d by the lockout. A perfect time for owners and players to Get Smart and make a deal. But the latest faux deadlines passed on Tuesday and Wednesday and another week of regular season games were canceled.

An international draft was the cause célèbre on Wednesday, but it was more of the latest beacon shining a light on the distrust major league players have for owners.

It’s incredibly important that MLB’s international market gets fixed. It is littered with corruption, and many major leaguers who went through the process, like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Martin Maldonado, have spoken out against a draft. Jarrett Seidler at Baseball Prospectus weighed in on the pros and cons of an international draft, noting that the hard cap on international spending that came with the last CBA killed the free-market aspect of international free agency, and that a draft would eliminate the unsavory pre-sign deals with players who are 12-13 years old.

It’s worth noting that there are currently rules in place preventing these pre-sign deals with literal children, but MLB has shown little interest in policing itself, lest they upset the influx of cheap labor into the sport.

Anthony Castrovince at on Monday outlined the basics of the league’s proposal on the international draft, with Maria Torres at The Athletic updating the numbers on Wednesday morning.

There’s also the issue of timing, with Hall of Famer David Ortiz telling Jeff Passan at ESPN that implementing the draft this year, for instance, would be a mistake. “The system in the Dominican is not ready to have a draft next year,” Ortiz told Passan. “We need to do this slowly.”

The league also wants to wait to implement the draft — by 2024, per Chelsea Janes at the Washington Post — but what’s left unsaid is that there are still pre-sign deals to honor over the next couple of years.

MLB says the draft will help clean up the corruption, but it’s also a way to keep costs down, just like the hard cap on international free agency was in the last CBA. It’s understandable that players are skeptical of the league’s altruistic intentions, especially when MLB has an ownership stake in Rawlings yet can’t seem to find consistency in the baseballs in recent years.

The international draft was a hold up during Wednesday’s negotiations, with owners tying the removal of draft pick compensation for free agents with the implementation of the draft. The players have long been against the international draft, going back multiple CBA negotiations, but the adding a condition upon the draft’s existence was what rankled most.

From a pair of players on the MLBPA executive subcommittee, and now teammates on the Mets.

It’s not quite the last-minute shenanigans the players accused the owners of pulling during the all-night bargaining session on February 28, but in a similar vein. From Ross Stripling’s account to Shi Davidi and Ben Nicholson-Smith at SportsNet:

“It got to be like 12:30 and the fine print of their CBT proposal was stuff we had never seen before,” Stripling said. “They were trying to sneak things through us, it was like they think we’re dumb baseball players and we get sleepy after midnight or something. It’s like that stupid football quote, they are who we thought they were. They did exactly what we thought they would do. They pushed us to a deadline that they imposed, and then they tried to sneak some shit past us at that deadline and we were ready for it. We’ve been ready for five years. And then they tried to flip it on us today in PR, saying that we’ve changed our tone and tried to make it look like it was our fault. That never happened.”

On Wednesday, the hangup over the international draft derailed the talks, such that MLB felt necessary to cancel another week of games.

But it wasn’t so much of a deal breaker after all, considering on Thursday morning the players and owners reached agreement to table the draft until July, giving both sides more time to hash out the details.

Did MLB really need to go through the motions of canceling more games on Wednesday, with the possibility that a full season could still be played if a deal is reached, say, on Thursday?

On one hand, the delay adds another hurdle to negotiations going forward, especially if a full 162 games aren’t played. The players will want to be paid and accrue service time for a full season, and per Jeff Passan at ESPN on Wednesday morning, “The MLBPA has said if the league refuses to concede to full pay and service time, it will remove expanded playoffs — a key to a new basic agreement for MLB — from its proposal.”

Or the owners are just stalling, content with missing a certain number of games in an attempt to divide the players union. That’s the darkest timeline.

So we’re either reasonably close to a deal — the numbers on the core economic issues are within range of each other — or we aren’t close at all. I’m done reading into reports of “optimism” for a deal.

I can’t wait to find out the next fly in the ointment.