International Free Agents Rumors

Quick Hits: Zimmer, Boras, Draft, Dozier

The Rays will honor the late Don Zimmer by announcing that his #66 jersey will be retired in a ceremony on Opening Day.  Zimmer only wore #66 for one season during his 11 years as a senior advisor for the Rays, as he increased his uniform number by one every season to reflect how many years he had spent in baseball.  The beloved long-time coach, manager and player passed away last June.

  • Using Max Scherzer‘s signing with the Nationals as an example, Scott Boras discusses how he markets (though the agent dislikes that term) and presents his major free agent clients in an interview with Bloomberg’s Joshua Green.  Boras and his staff identify which teams are ideal fits for his clients and then specifically tailors each pitch to relate to each team owner during negotiations.  With Scherzer, Boras had four lengthy meetings with Nats owner Ted Lerner highlighting how Scherzer would create more value to the franchise both baseball-wise and from a business perspective.
  •’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo debate which club has had the best farm system of the last five years.  Callis chose the Nationals since they’ve found more superstar talent, while Mayo picked the Cardinals due to their system’s overall depth.
  • The possibility of an international draft has been a topic of discussion throughout baseball lately, with proponents like commissioner Rob Manfred advocating a “single modality of entry” to allow consistency in the way MLB teams sign amateurs from various parts of the world.  Flipping the idea around, however, Rob Neyer of FOX Sports suggests that MLB could instead ensure consistency by abolishing the amateur draft.  Instead of a draft, MLB could allow teams to spend a predetermined amount on amateur players (be they domestic or international) each year. Neyer favors doing so in such a way that would stop baseball from penalizing winning by having the top teams take lower draft picks.  The idea could also be easily modified so that teams with the worst records would be able to spend more money.  In either case, Neyer believes his system would encourage all teams to hunt for talent both at home and abroad.
  • It’s becoming rare to see pre-arbitration players sign extensions that don’t cover at least one free agent year, yet Brian Dozier‘s new contract with the Twins is such a deal, Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards writes in his analysis of the extension.  Edwards thinks more players could possibly pursue “a safe deal” like Dozier’s if they “place an emphasis on getting to free agency.”
  • Orlando Hudson is in the Diamondbacks‘ camp to work with the infield, though he plans to be back on a diamond in more than an instructor role,’s Steve Gilbert reports (via Twitter).  Hudson hopes to play winter ball and attempt a Major League comeback for the 2016 season.  The 37-year-old former Gold Glove second baseman last played in the bigs in 2012 and had seemingly hung up his spikes following brief stints in the Mexican and Dominican winter leagues in 2013.

Pitcher Notes: Latos, Gutierrez, Alvares, Qualls

Mat Latos‘ fascinating interview with FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal offers an unusually honest look at transactions, and team machinations in general, from the perspective of a player. Latos says he received assurances from the Padres that they wouldn’t trade him, and then they traded him eight days later and didn’t tell him. “I woke up, had like 50 text messages,” Latos says. “I called my agent. He said, ‘(GM) Josh Byrnes couldn’t get ahold of you.’ I had zero missed calls from him. I had to call him. Maybe he had the wrong number.” He speaks of “great times” in the Reds organization and says he’s satisfied to be with the Marlins, but questions the Reds for pushing him too aggressively as he returned from injury last year, and expresses lingering bitterness at going through the arbitration process with Miami. “You see it as a business,” he says. “You kind of see how much of a pawn you really are.” Here are more notes on pitchers.

  • Cuban pitchers Vladimir Gutierrez and Yadier Alvares won’t be able to sign until July 2, Ben Badler of Baseball America writes. Any international free agent born later than September 1, 1995 must register with Major League Baseball to be able to sign, and Gutierrez and Alvares aren’t registered. (The rule is designed to help MLB keep track of young international free agents and prevent identity fraud, although Badler notes that the rule is tough on Cuban players, who can’t register while they’re in Cuba. The rule does not apply to Yoan Moncada, who was born in May 1995.) The two pitchers must register by May 15 to sign beginning in July. Gutierrez won Serie Nacional’s 2013-14 Rookie of the Year award, and Alvares is an interesting young pitcher who can throw 97 MPH.
  • Veteran reliever Chad Qualls is happy about the talent the Astros have added this winter, Brian McTaggart of writes. “They’re going to contribute a lot to the back end of the bullpen,” says Qualls, referring to Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. “The trades and the signings we made are spot on for our offense,” he adds. Qualls’ perspective on the Astros is different than most, since he spent the first four seasons of his career with the team. In two of those (2004 and 2005), they were an NL powerhouse, advancing to the World Series in ’05. Since then, Qualls has moved around the country, playing for the Diamondbacks, Rays, Padres, Phillies, Yankees, Pirates and Marlins while the Astros eventually became the worst team in the Majors. Now he’s back with them as they’re beginning to show signs of reemerging.

McDaniel On International Bonus Pools

A number of teams are expected to break the bank on international talent next July, writes Kiley McDaniel of Due to international spending restrictions, teams that spend more than 15% above their allotted pool may not ink any international free agents for over $300,000 in the following two signing periods. However, there is growing consensus within the industry that an international draft will be implemented when baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is re-visited after the 2016 season. If a draft is put in place, teams will have only two years to live with the current arrangement.

McDaniel’s sources have suggested that as many as 10 teams may blow past their limit when the next signing period begins on July 2. The Cubs, Blue Jays, and Phillies will “almost definitely” exceed their respective pools. As McDaniel notes, plans will likely be affected by verbal commitments as we get closer to July. Additionally, the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Angels have greatly exceeded their budgets during the current signing period, meaning they will be penalized during the next two periods.

If there truly are only two more years before a draft is implemented, then teams have an interesting “strategic choice.” At least four clubs – possibly five pending the outcome of the Yoan Moncada bidding – will be handicapped. More will spend heavily next summer, making themselves ineligible for big signings in 2016. If enough teams are aggressive, it could be advantageous to wait until 2016 for a spending spree. McDaniel also points out that the penalized teams are mostly those who usually spend a lot on international talent.

Put it all together, and it’s increasingly clear that clubs are unconcerned about the international bonus pool. While small market clubs may be loathe to pay excessive taxes (100% on overages), those theoretically get passed onto the player via a lower signing bonus. In my opinion, if most of the big spenders are excluded from the marketplace in 2016, then we could see some nontraditional sources of big bonuses.

International Moves: Dodgers, Liberato, Villatoro

We’ll keep track of the day’s international signings here…

  • The Dodgers announced the signings of four 17-year-olds from the Dominican Republic (via Twitter): outfielders Deivy Castillo and Ariel Sandoval, shortstop Ravel Hernandez, and right-hander Miguel Urena. Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times tweeted the age and positions of each player.
  • The Mariners signed Luis Liberato, a 17-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. Liberato obtains a $140K bonus. The 6'1" teenager has gap power with a solid swing and could stay in center field or move to right, according to Badler.
  • The Blue Jays signed 18-year-old right-hander Denis Villatoro to a five-year contract, Saúl Carranza of the Honduran newspaper Diez reported over the weekend (translation via MLBTR's Nick Collias). It's a five-year deal, according to La Tribuna. Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun notes that it's worth $20K (Twitter link). Villatoro, who worked out for the Blue Jays before signing, said he's "very happy" to have agreed to terms with Toronto, Carranza reports. His fastball reaches 93 mph, and he also drew interest from the Orioles, Yankees, Mets, Astros, Giants and Pirates.

International Notes: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Twins

A new set of rules and restrictions for the international prospect market will take effect less than two weeks from now, on July 2. Each team will be working with an annual budget of $2.9MM for international players starting next month. Here are the latest rumblings regarding the international prospect market, via Ben Badler of Baseball America:

  • The Blue Jays had seemed to be in the lead for Venezuelan right-hander Jose Mujica, but may not be as closely linked to him as expected, Badler writes. The Red Sox and Diamondbacks have also been linked to the 15-year-old Mujica, who's considered by many scouts to be the top pitching prospect available in Latin America. 
  • The Blue Jays are still favored to sign 16-year-old Venezuelan Franklin Barreto, according to Badler. Some teams consider Barreto the top available prospect, but he will likely move from shortstop to another position.
  • The Red Sox, Padres and Royals have been mentioned as possible teams of interest on Venezuelan left-hander Jose Castillo, Badler writes. Some view the Dodgers and Orioles as sleepers for Castillo, who’s expected to obtain a generous bonus.
  • The Twins are showing heavy interest in Dominican shortstop Amaurys Minier, according to Badler. The 16-year-old switch-hitter is expected to become one of the highest-paid Dominican prospects.
  • Some believe the Pirates are in on Dominican third baseman Julio de la Cruz.

Gammons On International Free Agents

Lots of interesting details in this write up by Peter Gammons on International free agents. Among the topics covered…

  • An investigation by MLB security into identification fraud could lead to the deportation of as many as 100 minor leaguers.
  • Money given to international free agents has more than tripled in past five years.
  • Gammons says the slotting system in the amateur draft doesn't work because the richer teams ignore the recommendations. However, because of revenue sharing, the small-market teams now have more money to give to international free agents.
  • The commissioner's office refuses to sign off on the signing of an unnamed fourth round pick (of a "small-market Central Division team") because the player and the team agreed to a contract above the commissioner's recommendation.
  • Gammons feels that the NCAA's new restrictions on scholarships, along with the lower signing bonuses, will drive more kids to football and basketball.
  • The highest bonus ever given to an international free agent was the $7MM given to Rolando Arrojo by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Gammons adds that Cuban baseball cards he received in 1994 showed several players, including Arrojo, to have ages much different than those listed with MLB.