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.