Three decades ago, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th
President, Arizona's Sandra Day O'Conner became the first female
Supreme Court Justice, and nine of every 10 players in Major League
Baseball was born in the United States. Now, the percentage of
foreign-born MLB players is up to 27.
Just as the country is a melting pot of different people and
cultures, baseball has grown to include players from just about
every nationality. Whether signed as teenagers out of the Dominican
Republic or poached from Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball,
international players are increasingly woven into the long-term
plans of baseball teams.
Teams without an adequate international game plan struggle to
compete with teams that have mastered the art of the worldwide
Last Wednesday, I said that the best way a team could spend money
was through the draft. Signing international players is another
wise allotment of funds that many teams overlook. Instead of
spending millions of dollars for an aging free agent with a big
name, many teams should instead throw five-figure signing bonuses
at the best 16-year olds on the global stage, hoping that a few
Instead of signing Aubrey Huff to a two-year, $22 million deal, for
example, the San Francisco Giants could have scooped up a dozen of
the best international prospects. If one of them turned into the
next Pedro Martinez or Vladimir Guerrero, they would be competitive
for the next 15 years.
In Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic, teams
begin hunting for the next superstar at extremely young ages.
Each of baseball's 30 franchises have scouting academies in the
Dominican Republic. The government welcomes the sport with open
arms, choosing not to levy taxes on imported bats, balls and
gloves. Teams start paying attention to Latin American players when
they are about 14 years old, and start talking to them about
signing contracts. When they reach 16, they are eligible to play in
the MLB. But that's just the first step in a long process.
Major League Baseball holds winter leagues in the Dominican
Republic, which is considered one step below Single-A ball on the
minor-league spectrum. Young boys from all over the globe often
leave their families and spend a year or two in the country to
learn from their team's scouting and development team. A few will
get a promotion to the United States, where four or five more years
of minor-league training awaits.
Of the tens of thousands of baseball players in Latin American
countries, a handful may eventually reach the professional
The process of adding Japanese players to MLB teams isn't nearly as
simple, and is often much more expensive. Unlike Latin American
countries, the Japanese have their own lucrative professional
baseball league. To prevent their high-profile players from voiding
their contracts in order to play for MLB teams, a "posting system"
was created in 1998.
When a Nippon Professional Baseball player is "posted," the 30 MLB
teams hold a silent auction to determine who is granted exclusive
rights to negotiate a contract with the player. If a contract is
reached within 30 days, the winning team's silent auction bid is
given to the Japanese team as a transfer fee.
Ichiro Suzuki was one of the first players to be successfully
posted, and the Seattle Mariners paid a little more than $13
million for the right to negotiate a contract - an investment that
has paid off exponentially, given Ichiro's global popularity. The
Boston Red Sox made one of the biggest blunders in their history by
paying the Seibu Lions more than $51 million for the right to
negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is now one of the least
effective starting pitchers in baseball.
Over the last several years, professional baseball teams in this
country have grown increasingly reliant on foreign-born players to
play pivotal roles in their organization. Baseball talent can be
found everywhere, and in the ultra-competitive MLB, teams are
combing the far reaches of the globe to find the best players.
Discuss the news on NABUR, a place to have local conversations The Neighborhood Alliance for Better Understanding and Respect ✔ A site just for our local community ✔ Focused on facts, not misinformation ✔ Free for everyone