A Red Sox legend speaks out on MLB’s international draft proposal
Just when it seemed that we might be nearing an agreement to baseball’s ongoing labor dispute, MLB threw us a curveball by trying to sneak in a proposal for an international draft. While the concept of an international draft has been floating around for quite some time, the league’s sudden push to cram it into negotiations threatens to extend the lockout beyond the point of salvaging a full season. As one of the most prominent international players in recent memory, former Boston Red Sox superstar David Ortiz wants MLB to pump the brakes on implementing an international draft.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that in a voice message shared in Dominican circles, Ortiz came out strongly against the international draft. Passan followed up with the Hall of Famer to continue the conversation and allow Ortiz to outline his issues with MLB’s proposal. It’s not that he’s fundamentally opposed to the concept, but Ortiz is bothered by how quickly the league is rushing to implement it.
"“The system in the Dominican is not ready to have a draft next year,” said Ortiz. “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 is seeking to implement the international draft starting in 2024. While it’s encouraging to know it wouldn’t be an immediate change, Ortiz views this as a process that should take three or four years to roll out. That would leave sufficient time to come up with a plan after speaking with international players past and present who can provide valuable insight.
Ortiz should be one of those voices that is heard during these discussions. He knows firsthand what it’s like to transition from a foreign country to play baseball in the US. The Dominican native is one of the most influential representatives of the country. When Big Papi speaks, people listen.
Ortiz’s primary objective is to do right by the young athletes coming from international locations. His experience is based on coming from the Dominican, where he says baseball is one of the “secret weapons” of their economy. If MLB doesn’t handle this plan correctly, it could have a devastating effect on the Dominican and several other countries in similar situations.
"“Baseball is such a big thing in the Dominican,” Ortiz explained. “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. We have the youth. People wanting to be me, Pedro, Pujols. We can’t let that go away.”"
The dream of playing in the majors motivates many young athletes to stay on the path toward a better life. The league’s concern is that this path has been corrupted by greed. International free agency allows players to join an organization when they are 16 years old but it’s not uncommon for teams to reach multimillion-dollar agreements with children as young as 12. These early signings, financial kickbacks and trainers giving performance-enhancing drugs to kids are among the concerns that MLB hopes to eliminate with a draft.
The league claims that the draft system would guarantee more money for international players than the current system does but you can’t blame the players for being a bit skeptical considering the league’s tactics throughout the ongoing lockout.
The owners have offered to eliminate draft pick penalties for signing free agents as incentive for pushing through their international draft plans but a change of this magnitude needs to be carefully analyzed to ensure it’s implemented fairly, not used as a bargaining chip at the 11th hour of CBA negotiations.
It appears inevitable that an international draft will eventually be implemented. However, Ortiz has wisely pointed out the risks of rushing into this agreement too quickly. The owners are mostly concerned with the bottom line but they should heed the advice of players like Ortiz who understand what it’s like to move from another country to follow the dream of playing in the big leagues. Ortiz is prioritizing the best interests of the young players who will follow in his footsteps and his opinions should not go overlooked.