The last week has given us a lot of baseball stories revolving around baseball outside of the United States and it has led me to some thoughts on the whole things. So pardon the rambling.
Yesterday the Phillies added 4 Latin American pitchers to their 40 man roster (3 Dominican RHPs and a Venezuelan LHP). None of the pitchers signed for very much money, combined they made just over $100,000 on bonuses that were handed out 4+ years ago. Since then none have really made much money. Dominguez, Kilome, and Taveras have all spent some weeks on winter league teams in the Dominican which probably helped supplement their incomes some, but not really enough to say they haven’t been living on almost nothing for many years. Each will see their annual salary be closer to $40,000 this season, which will be at least 4 times what they made last season. The four of them come from very different pitching backgrounds and archetypes, and their journeys are not really that similar, and their ascendance this far really is a testament to their own work and to the Phillies Latin American scouting and development.
Moving from talking about the Phillies, to talking about a topic very much in the news today, the Braves’ punishment over international misdoings. The information on the punishment is still coming out, but the assumption is that the Braves will be stripped of their major signings from 2016, including Kevin Maitan, those players will keep their bonuses, and those players will be free agents. In all of this, the players should be “fine”. They will get double bonuses, though not with the org they initially chose to be with. They won’t miss any playing time.
All of this just reeks of hypocrisy. Today Baseball America’s Ben Badler is reporting all of the details of the Braves’ punishment, yesterday Ben was reporting on the results of a Dominican showcase where 15 year old kids were put in front of scouts who will then tell their organization how large a bonus to offer them. Ben also reported which teams these players are linked to (including the Phillies), with awfully specific bonus information given teams and players aren’t supposed to talk contract until July 2, 2018. This is nothing against Ben, who is just covering the industry. What he is covering is a marketplace of human flesh. These are just kids who will be given some amount of money, shipped to a foreign country where they will be paid very little for a number of years until they get shipped home or reach a major league roster. From what has been reported, the Braves only took things to the logical extreme of the already exploitative marketplace. A marketplace that already has spending limited by ownership who doesn’t want to spend money, and the player’s association who is willing to sell amateur rights for marginal improvements for major leaguers. While Maitan and company will “double dip” on bonuses, they probably won’t get close to their actual market value, which brings me to Shohei Ohtani.
In an effort to avoid an international draft the player’s union agreed to move what qualified an international player as an amateur and the aforementioned hard caps on international signing bonuses. The consequence is that Ohtani is classified an amateur by major league baseball and can only receive a minor league signing bonus and not a major league contract. That means even the Yankees who are loading up on international bonus pool money can at most offer the Japanese superstar $9-$10 million which is a paltry sum compared to his actual value. Right now the debate has centered around the posting system where Ohtani’s current team will receive inadequate compensation for losing it’s star player. However, at some point we are going to have figure out how we talk about the fact that Ohtani is being screwed by the player’s association caving to ownership’s push for cost cutting.
Baseball continues to structure itself around the majors being the end all be all of baseball and has continued to really screw over those along the path to it. Whether it is viewing minor leaguers as expendable seasonal workers who will work purely for a chance at glory, or exploiting Latin American 14 and 15 year olds, or treating the best players of the second best league in the world like they are nobodies, baseball continues to weaken its chances at a better and more interesting game for short term profits. In the coming weeks we will treat the Braves as the one bad apple, while praising the teams able to take advantage of their misfortune. We will talk about what a great deal which ever team signs Ohtani gets by completely underpaying him. All of this while complaining that Jay Bruce and J.D. Martinez want too much money, or why the Marlins must give away Stanton so they can pay off the massive debt they incurred buying the team (and the rest of baseball allowed them to take on). It is going to be an interesting offseason from a labor perspective, but probably not a positive one.