MLB players' union rejects international draft proposal

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NEW YORK (AP) — The players' association rejected what Major League Baseball called its final offer for an international draft, a move that will keep direct draft-pick compensation in place for free agents and likely limit the market for some older players.

The union announced its decision about eight hours before Monday's midnight EDT deadline for an agreement, timing specified in the March 10 lockout settlement.

“Each of our proposals was focused on protecting against the scenario that all players fear the most — the erosion of our game on the world stage, with international players becoming the latest victim in baseball’s prioritization of efficiency over fundamental fairness,” the union said in a statement. “The league’s responses fell well short of anything players could consider a fair deal."

The decision keeps in place until December 2026 a system of qualifying offers for free agents that began in 2012. A club can make a qualifying offer following the World Series to a free agent who has been with the team since opening day, a one-year contract for the average of the top 125 deals by average annual value. Last year's figure was $18.4 million.

If a player rejects a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the signing team is subject to a loss of one or two amateur draft picks and a reduction in international signing bonus pool allotment.

Some older players have found their market lessened because of the compensation. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel delayed signing in 2019 until June, after the draft pick compensation no longer was attached.

Among the older players eligible for free agency after this season are Anthony Rizzo, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale and Charlie Morton.

Top players have found robust markets. This year's group is headed by Aaron Judge, Jacob deGrom and Trea Turner .

"We are disappointed the MLBPA chose the status quo over transitioning to an international draft that would have guaranteed future international players larger signing bonuses and better educational opportunities, while enhancing transparency to best address the root causes of corruption in the current system,” MLB said in a statement.

An amateur draft was established for residents of the United States and Canada in 1965 and extended to residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico in 1990. MLB has pushed for a similar international amateur draft, saying part of its rationale was to combat illicit agreements made before players are age eligible — either 16 or 15 if the player turns 16 later in the signing period.

MLB proposed last July 28 that a 2024 international draft include spending of $181 million for the top 600 players and $190 million in total, up from $166 million in the 2021 signing period.

Players waited until early this July to make a counteroffer. They proposed a draft be allocated $260 million for the 2024 signing period, with teams having to guarantee slot values while having the flexibility to exceed them within bonus pools.

MLB increased its offer Saturday to $191 million for 2024 and said it was a final proposal. MLB dropped mandatory drug testing with penalties for positive tests and also changed its proposed medical combine from mandatory to optional. Management also offered to guarantee a minimum of $5,000 in educational money, a figure rising to $10,000 if the player passes a General Educational Development Test.

The union said MLB's offer was not sufficient.

“Our draft proposals — unprecedented in MLBPA history — sought to establish minimum guarantees in player signings, roster spots, infrastructure investments, playing opportunities, scouting opportunities, as well as enforcement measures to combat corruption,” the union said. “We also made proposals to compensate international signees more fairly and in line with other amateurs, and to ensure that all prospects have access to an educational and player development safety net.”

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Ronald Blum, The Associated Press

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