On Saturday, July 2, MLB clubs will be free to sign international amateur free agent players who are at least 16 years of age, or will be 16 by September 1 of this year. The Detroit Tigers have a bonus pool of $3.15 million to spend on signing bonuses this season. However, the bonus pool is a "soft cap" of sorts, meaning teams can exceed that limit and incur penalties based on their signings.
If the Tigers are at all interested in making a splash in the international free agent market -- and thus restocking a barren farm system -- this would be the year to blow past that limit and sign as much talent as they can. Here are four reasons why the Tigers should go for broke in this year's international amateur free agent (IFA) market.
1. They have more money to spend
The Tigers have the ninth-highest international bonus pool thanks to their lowly finish in 2015. They had the fifth-lowest bonus pool in this year's draft, having forfeited their second and third round draft picks without any compensation round selections. While the Tigers are spending that money (and more) on Justin Upton, they still have plenty of room to work with on the IFA market.
2. There is less competition
Ten of the biggest spending teams in the international market are unable to sign any players for more than a $300,000 signing bonus this season. The ineligible clubs include the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, Cubs, Angels, Royals, Astros, Rays, Blue Jays, and Diamondbacks. These teams all blew past their international bonus pool limits in the past two seasons while the Tigers did not. The Red Sox are banned from signing anyone after MLB found them guilty of circumventing their limitations during the last IFA signing period.
3. The farm system is barren
The Tigers continue to have one of the most talent-starved farm systems in the major leagues thanks to years of trading prospects and forfeiting draft picks. They did not sign an international free agent player who has made an impact for them during all of Dave Dombrowski's tenure in Detroit. They didn't sign any top 50 international free agent players last year. They need to get in the game.
4. An international draft is coming
The next collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will likely contain an international draft, which will significantly curtail IFA spending. There have been rumors of an international draft for years, and it's a high priority for the commissioner and many owners this time around. While the ongoing debate over minor league wages has reached the forefront of baseball's consciousness, the MLBPA's current membership has nothing to lose by establishing an international draft. Most observers believe it's just a question of what the players want in exchange for the concession.
The current CBA, which expires on December 1, 2016, provided for an international draft if agreement could be reached with the players, but that has not happened. Once an international draft is implemented, the chance to spend big in the international market will be gone.
Baseball America has ranked Cuban players are listed here separately.Most top 30 international prospects receive seven-figure signing bonuses, and the top 40 all received over $550,000 in 2015. Detroit spent $1.78 million of their $2.0 million bonus pool in 2015, ranking 27th of 30 major league clubs in spending. Even five team limited by penalties spent more.
Penalties for going over bonus pool limits might seem to be steep at first glance, but that has not deterred teams from blowing past the limits on a regular basis. In most cases, once a team decides to blow past the limit, they go well over and take a two-year penalty.Penalties will carry forward into the next collective bargaining agreement and there are alternative penalties in the CBA if an international draft is implemented.
Here are the penalties for exceeding bonus pool limits, both with and without an international player draft.
|Penalty without draft
|Penalty if there is a draft
|0-5% Over slot pool
|100% of overage
|75% of overage
|5-10% over slot pool
|100% of overage, $500K bonus limit next year
|75% of overage. lose 1st round pick next int'l draft
|10-15% over slot pool
|100% of overage, $300K bonus limit next year
|100% tax on overage, lose 1st & 2nd round picks next int'l draft
|More than 15% over slot pool
|100% of overage, $300K bonus limit next 2 years
|100% tax on overage, lose next 2 1st round picks
The Tigers could also acquire bonus slot money in a trade, but a team can not increase it's overall bonus pool by more than 50 percent. A dozen such trades occurred in 2015. Several teams have been mentioned in rumors as clubs intent on going big in the international market this summer, but we have not heard a peep about the Tigers. Let's hope they get in the game.