I've been thinking about this for a while, especially in light of all the drama this summer over whether the Nationals would be able to sign stud prospect Steven Strasburg. A lot of the drama revolved around whether Strasburg's agent Scott Boras, the avaricious thug who makes Darsh* look kind and generous by comparison, would allow him to sign with the Nationals or whether he would use Strasburg in his ongoing attempt to destroy the free agent draft and have all prospects sold at auction to the highest bidders. That would be great for Boras and his ilk (to say nothing of his clients), but disastrous to the cause of preserving some remnants of competitive balance in major league baseball.
Recently, Baseball Commissioner Bud (Light) Selig has been talking about bringing foreign players into the draft in order to keep the rich teams from skimming off all the hot prospects from the Dominican and other Caribbean hotbads of baseball, to say nothing of signing veteran players from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. This, to quote Megan McArdle, is nonsense on stilts. As it is, players can (and have) evaded the constraints of the draft by signing with independent minor league teams such as the St. Paul Saints, and there is every reason to expect that this will only increase if Selig gets his way and is allowed to lock down foreign players in the same way college and high-school players are locked into the current draft system. After all, the major problem with the draft, which is the insane amount of money paid for signing bonuses, won't be eliminated by the international draft. Most of those players don't get the huge. multi-million dollar bonuses anyway; those go to first-round picks like Strasburg.
No, if you want to fix the system, you need to take those bonuses out of the system. The only realistic way to do that is to get the major league teams out of the business of developing talent, and turn the minor leagues loose. Short-season A-league teams and Rookie League teams can't afford to pay million-dollar bonuses to hot prospects; all they can offer is the eventual chance at playing in the major leagues. If we make those leagues the sole entry point into professional baseball for high school and college players, the bonus money vanishes, to be replaced by a share of the money when the SS-A/Rookie teams sell the player's contract up the line to a full-season Class A team, A to AA, AA to AAA, and finally from triple-A to the major leagues. The teams in the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues will probably disappear or be kept as taxi squads for the major-league teams, who would be required to release players from those teams at the end of the season as free agents if they didn't keep them on the 40-man roster.
Where the independent leagues would fit into this talent pipeline is a good question. MLB perhaps might restrict itself to dealing only with the AA/AAA leagues (Northern, All-American, Can-Am and Atlantic) or not deal with them at all, leaving the independents in the business of giving undrafted and cast-off players a second look, off to the side of what would no longer be farm teams run from and by the major league teams. There might be some other way to get the stupidly huge signing bonuses out of the game, but aside from just issuing an edict from the Commissioner's office, how else would such a plan work?
*See Jack Vance's The Demon Princes, Volume 2
and read the first volume
, too, while you're at it. You'll thank me later.