Thursday, July 2, 2015 is the day that the next international signing period begins for amateur baseball players who were not eligible for the amateur player draft due to being residents of foreign countries. Under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) each team has a limit -- a bonus pool amount -- which represents the total amount that they can spend on signing bonuses for international free agent players.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, who had baseball’s worst record in 2014, have the largest signing bonus pool at just under $5.4 million. The Los Angeles Angels have the smallest pool at just under $2 million. The Detroit Tigers have a spending limit of $2.056 million. The team spent $2.04 million during the 2014-2015 signing period, slightly more than their pool limit of $1.95 million for the year.
International amateurs tend to be signed on July 2 or shortly after the signing period opens, as was the case in 2014. A breakdown of the Tigers’ international signings for 2014 is here. Players who are 17 years or older are already eligible to sign, and those who will turn 17 during the next signing period are eligible to sign beginning July 2. Here is a list of MLB.com's Top 30 international amateur free agents who will be eligible to sign.
One year ago, the Tigers signed 16 year old outfielder Julio Martinez from the Dominican Republic for a bonus of $600,000. Martinez, who was ranked as the 19th best international prospect by MLB.com, is currently playing in the Dominican Summer League.
Teams can spend over their pool limit, but there are penalties. The penalties range from a 100 percent tax on every dollar spent above the bonus limits, up to a 100 percent tax plus limits on signing bonuses for international players in future years. Here is the schedule of penalties for exceeding the pool limits.
- Any spending over the bonus pool allotment is taxed at 100%.
- A team that exceeds its bonus pool by more than 5 percent but less than 10 percent is prohibited from signing any international player the following year for more than $500,000.
- A team that exceeds its bonus pool by more than 10 percent but less than 15 percent percent is prohibited from signing any international player the following year for more than $300,000.
- A team that exceeds its bonus pool by more than 15 percent is prohibited from signing any international player for the following two years for more than $300,000.
The bonus pool total for each club is calculated by adding "slot bonus money" based on the previous season’s record, as is the case with bonus limits in the amateur player draft. Clubs may trade their slot money from a particular slot to other clubs, even if they are subject to signing restrictions.
Several clubs exceeded their limits in the 2014-2015 period, and will be restricted in the signing bonuses they can give to players in the period beginning on July 2nd. The New York Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, andBoston Red Sox all went so far over their bonus limits that they are limited to $300,000 per player in both the 2015 and 2016 signing periods. The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers have signing restrictions that will expire on July 2, and they are both expected to be active again in the new signing period.
The Tigers maximized their pool limit in the 2014-2015 period, exceeding their bonus limit by just under the five percent mark that would have triggered limits in the next signing period. While the club will pay a 100 percent penalty on their overage, they will not be restricted in what they can pay in 2015, other than the overall pool limit.
The Tigers are very active in the international free agent market. While they have been linked to some big names, they have so far avoided signing any stars such as Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, or Yu Darvish. Their largest bonus -- $1.2 million -- was given to outfielder Danry Vasquez in 2010. Vasquez was later traded to Houston for relief pitcher Jose Veras.
International players who are 23 years of age or older and have played professional baseball for five or more years, are exempt from the bonus pool limits. Several of the recently signed high-profile Cuban players were exempt from the international bonus limits. Players in the Japanese League (NPB) have a special posting system for players who want to play major league baseball in the United States.
The fact that so many clubs are willing to ignore the signing limits will only strengthen the resolve of owners and commissioner Rob Manfred to implement an international draft as part of the next collective bargaining agreement. Clubs that have already exceeded their signing limits in the current period may as well go for broke and sign as many players as possible before the next period begins.