There has been quite a bit of movement towards an international draft, and possibly as soon as this year. I think this a terrible idea for the overall health of the sport, but what effect would it have on the Astros current rebuilding plan?
Right now, based on the most recent CBA, the Astros have largest available pool for signing international players. For the 2013 to 2014 signing period, they will have $4.7 million. That will give them a negotiating advantage, but only marginal. They will not have exclusive negotiating rights with anyone, and its within the realm of possibility that, for a truly marquee name, a team would be willing to exceed their allotment and undercut the Astros' negotiating leverage. The current penalties are all monetary, and I don't think they are enough to stop a team from getting a player they want.
With a draft, it would be different. The Astros would have the exclusive negotiating rights to their drafted players. There will, presumably, still be limits on what they can offer, but noother team can undercut them by offering more. Assuming the Astros would also get the top pick in the international draft, it should, at least in the short term, offer the Astros an advantage in the international realm.
However, I'm nervous about the effect it will have on the Astros' ability, and more importantly, their incentive, to develop international talent long term. Most international markets are not like the U.S, where talent is independently developed via little leagues, high school programs and colleges. As outlined in this article by Grant Brisbee, one avenue for the Astros to infuse young talent into the system under the current system, with the limitation on bonuses, is to invest in infrastructure in international markets to develop talent. However, if the talent they develop is free for anyone to draft, will it still make sense for the Astros to pursue that avenue? And if teams aren't making the effort to develop talent in these markets, will the available talent for all teams begin to dry up?
These are questions I don't think we know the answers to yet. However, as the MLB really wants this, and the players union doesn't really care about what happens to non-member international teenagers, I think we will find out soon enough.