If it only costs money...

If it only costs money...

The quirks of MLB talent acquisition rules prevent teams from just signing whoever they want for whatever amount of money they can muster.  As a result, baseball franchises, including the Chicago Cubs, will have to be creative to grab available talent given restrictions and rather harsh financial and draft/signing penalties.  There are also competitive balance picks available in trade, the possibility of taking advantage of the qualifying offer system, the NPB and KBO posting systems, the apparently improving relationship between the United States and Cuba, and the interesting idea of pretty much trading a draft pick after the one-year moratorium is up (as we saw with the Trea Turner “PTBNL” saga).  Depending on how a team tweaks its offseason to take advantage of extra picks and pool money, or whether they are willing to break the bank in international amateur signings (with the associated penalties), the talent acquisition pathways are plentiful and just requires the team to push the “GO” button.

As you may recall, the Cubs blew past their spending pool last summer when they signed such top international prospects as Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres.  Dabynsky, when he was still blogging regularly, took a look at that signing period and the ancillary moves.  You may also recall that one of those signees, Jeferson Mejia, was traded for Miguel Montero (an acquisition we’re still not super-thrilled about but whatever).  The Cubs did blow past their allotment for that signing period, which is why they are hoping top international prospects like Yoan Moncada make it to July 2, 2015 before they agree to any deals.  I suppose if the Cubs had set up a more aggressive plan they could have really gone past their spending pool like the New York Yankees and others did this year, but there may have been a reason behind their approach that limited their expenditures in 2013-2014.

Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs wrote an article the other day about the “break the bank” international signing strategy.  The caveat here is that there is a growing feeling that MLB will implement an international draft when the CBA expires in December of 2016. Therefore, teams might as well go balls out and spend on the best talent since there’s only a two year period of penalties under the current CBA and this is their last chance.  If it just costs money and teams are willing to pass on a period of unlimited expenditures prior to the new system (whatever that is, because it may also come with penalties similar to the Rule 4 Draft), then the Cubs can take advantage of their financial flexibility to grab some talent that way to supplement their normal drafts and trades.  If it’s a player like a Yoan Moncada, who experts suggest will command a bonus nearing $40MM, then every dollar above the set IFA spending pool will be taxed at 100%, which essentially amounts to a $40MM-ish posting fee under the old NPB blind bid system.  Other players that are signed once a team has blown past their allotment will also have associated “posting fees.”  Teams have been known to do that for stars like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, so this is still within the realm of possibility for many clubs looking for talent and knowing all they have to do is, again, just spend the money.  And it does seem the Cubs are willing to do whatever it takes to acquire the best:

I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015.  I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand.  After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the 11 clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:

Almost Definitely (3): Cubs, Blue Jays, Phillies
Expected/Likely (4): Rangers, Padres, Dodgers, Diamondbacks
Possible/Rumored (4): Braves, Nationals, Royals, Twins

I’m not confident that Moncada will wait nearly seven months for the Cubs’ payday, but if they’re willing to blow past the pool, then we can be reasonably sure that other very interesting and talented quantities are out there, which should make the next year of rumors a ton of fun.


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  • In that most of this has to be sanctioned by the collective bargaining agreement to avoid antitrust scrutiny under 15 U.S.C. 26b, I wonder how much the union, to protect existing members, is willing to allow screwing over potential international members.

    The other issue is the degree to which international players are under contract, and thus their teams have to release them. I am still surprised that the Japanese leagues agreed to limit the posting amount to $20 million, instead of the all out auction to get DiceK. Is Cuba going to say something like "pay the Red League big bucks, or pay extortion to the smugglers, like you have been doing?"

  • In reply to jack:

    It's interesting you mention antitrust laws given that MLB is trying to get exemptions so they can continue to pay minor leaguers poverty wages and in an unrelated way, they'll also take away pensions for non-baseball employees. Just as with any business, MLB continues to be shady.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    Shady, of course. But they still have to obey the antitrust laws, National Labor Relations Act, etc. I guess minor leaguers are your hotel workers. The hotel workers are unionized, but also get screwed over pretty well.

    I've always contended that the barbers' unions and the players' unions were not what the NLRA was enacted to protect; the barbers because they were independent business owners or contractors (at least until they were run out of business by Great Clips and Sport Clips). The obvious reason why I question the players' unions is that while owners are always rich guys, the players in any major league sport are, too.

    The only result, in any sport, is that the existence of the union gives the leagues antitrust immunity so they can come up with rules like this that range from the complex to the ridiculous, and mostly to protect the owners against themselves.

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    How corrupt the system is. Every single one of those dollars should be going into the pockets of the international signees. The pool limits are so far below the ‘market’ value of the players that teams are lining up to blow past them, even if the kids will see less than half the money spent on them. Their parents will have to use a company providing short term payday loans It’s a sad joke, that is unlikely to be improved by an international draft.

  • In reply to Valen Smith:

    I don't think Abreu is crying that the $68 million he got, or Puig $42 million (although apparently the two came in under a different standard). They could have played in Cuba for the state, or they got what they got here.

    While I said that the system is all messed up, the only loans they need from loan sharks is a car title loan on their Lambos. I don't think that Rahmbo claimed to have increased the minimum wage to $13 (without saying in 2019) to help these poor refugees.

  • BTW, there was an article in the Tribune about how normalizing relations may affect Cuban players coming to MLB, including the possibility of posting.

  • In reply to jack:

    Makes you wonder how MLB will force certain territories into an international draft, as if they assume that all leagues around the world will just bow to their whims.

  • In reply to Rice Cube:

    I'm not sure why Japan went along with the current posting system.

    The draft* would work to the extent that MLB teams decide that each team won't deal with the other teams' draftees, but then I suppose whoever the next refugee comes in and argues that since he isn't a union member, any antitrust immunity doesn't apply to him. Other than that, it would be like the current domestic players who are drafted and stay in school until the team's right to an unsigned player expires.
    *Hitting Control-F, I saw "posting" in the article, not "draft." As you noted in your main post, there isn't a draft now, just penalties if signing bonuses exceed the pool.

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