Moncada’s deal, first reported by MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, revealed the folly of baseball’s inequitable player-entry system. Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, MLB teams are less financially constrained in how they can sign international players than how they strike deals with draft picks, who are born in either the U.S. or Puerto Rico. At the top of the talent scale, players born abroad stand to earn far more in their first bonus than domestic players of the same ability.
The point here is not to wave the flag, show off a bald eagle bicep tattoo, start doing donuts in an F-150 and shout out the window, “Our boys demand better!” This isn’t about patriotism. It’s about fairness, and in baseball’s current system, elite American teenagers earn a small fraction of what their Latin counterparts can earn based solely on where they are born.
Moncada’s $31.5 million set a new standard on the international market. The Red Sox had to pay approximately $63 million to acquire him – because they had exceeded their international spending pool of $700,000, MLB will tax Moncada’s bonus at 100 percent. The Red Sox also will be unable to sign any international players in the next signing period. But they were happy to do it for a player of his caliber: Baseball America has deemed him the No. 10 prospect in all of baseball, instantly the best in the Boston’s system.
Meantime, the highest bonus paid to a U.S. amateur under current rules came when the Chicago Cubs signed third baseman Kris Bryant, the No. 2 pick in 2013, to a $6.7 million bonus. The highest total package ever came when the Nationals signed Stephen Strasburg to a $15.1 million big league contract, three years before the CBA outlawed major league deals for draft picks.
Moncada’s contract shows the MLB Draft is a flawed entry system, benefiting only the owners who effectively have managed to collude to keep signing bonuses low. The MLB Players Association — the most effective, powerful union in pro sports — allowed it to happen, essentially sacrificing prospective members for leverage at the bargaining table to protect their current members.
In the last CBA, the draft system changed. Each team received a bonus pool to spend on draft bonus, the amount depending on where they picked. Last year, the allotments ranged from $13.3 million (for the Astros) to $2.2 million (for the Orioles).
The punishment for exceeding those allotments is prohibitive. If a team spends less than 5 percent more than their bonus pool, they are taxed 75 percent of the amount they went over. If a team spends between and 5 and 10 percent more than their bonus pool, they are taxed the same and, crucially, they lose a first-round draft pick the following season – which would in turn shrink their bonus pool. If a team exceeds their pool by more than 10 percent, it loses two draft picks.
Large-market teams have shown they will pile money on top of money to acquire high-level talent. But they will not part with draft choices on top of money, because draft choices are simply too valuable. On the international market, teams are willing to spend big and forfeit their ability to sign international players for a year for the right talent.
The teams also have more leverage in the draft. Players, of course, can sign only with the team that picks them. Moncada was free to sign with any team, which further drove his price.
Moncada is by all accounts a wonderful talent, and he earned a signing bonus commensurate with what the open market dictated. He didn’t sign for a penny less than what his ability deserved. It is unfair that an American counterpart wouldn’t have the same right, and MLB must address the inequity.