Tomorrow marks the launch of the 2014-15 international free agent signing period. Beginning tomorrow and ending June 15, 2015, amateur players outside of the United States (including Puerto Rico) and Canada will be eligible to sign contracts with any Major League club, so long as they turn 17 years of age by Sept. 1, 2015 (the completion of their first minor league season). In other words, any players that are already 16+ years of age or will be 16 by Sept. 1, 2014, will be eligible to be signed.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, players with at least three years of professional experience that are 23 years of age or older have been considered professionals and been exempt from international bonus pools. That will change with this year’s signing period, as players must now have a prerequisite five years of pro experience in addition to being 23 years of age or older in order to be exempt from those spending limitations.
Baseball America’s Ben Badler reported each team’s designated bonus pools and the values of each team’s international bonus slots back in April. It should be noted that while teams such as the Cubs and Rangers have fairly large bonus pools, they won’t be able to sign any big-name prospects; each club incurred significant penalties in the 2013-14 signing period after exceeding its international bonus pool by more than 15 percent and, as such, will not be allowed to sign a player in this year’s signing period for more than $250K. Their bonus slots, however, retain their value, which could mean they will come into play as trade chips this summer.
A team can acquire up to 50 percent of its original draft pool, though the funds must be acquired via slots. For example, the White Sox ($4.273MM pool) can acquire roughly $2.1MM, but the Cubs cannot simply trade them that amount. They must trade the full value of their international bonus slots, which are $2.288MM, $458K, $309K and $207K. In this hypothetical example, the Cubs’ top bonus slot would be too large for the White Sox to acquire, unless the Sox were to send back a slot of smaller value.
International bonus pools are determined based on the reverse order of the previous year’s standings, meaning that the Astros have the largest budget ($5,015,400) while the Cardinals have the lowest ($1,866,300). The Yankees have drawn a great deal of attention for their reported plans to shatter their spending limitations, but reports have also indicated that the Rays and Red Sox are willing to incur the maximum penalties as well. This year, penalties for exceeding bonus pools has changed slightly from previous signing periods. Here’s the breakdown:
- All overages are taxed at 100 percent.
- Exceed bonus pool by 5 to 10 percent: Team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $500K in the following international signing period.
- Exceed by 10 to 15 percent: Team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $300K in the following international signing period.
- Exceed by more than 15 percent: Team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $300K in the following two international signing periods.
So then, who are the players to watch for on the international circuit, and where might they be signing? Baseball America’s Ben Badler and MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez each have Top 30 rankings posted. Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel also has a Top 30 list, though his is a bit different, as he’s ranked the international prospects in the order of his projected bonus for each (along with a prediction for where each will sign). Badler also projects landing spots (subscription required) and provides scouting reports (likewise) for his Top 30 along with some other names to watch. Subscribers to Scout.com can see McDaniel’s full scouting reports on each player as well as video footage of most of the top names in the class. Sanchez’s list contains video and scouting reports that are free to the public.
Tomorrow figures to feature many reports on international prospects signing (or agreeing to terms), as many clubs have verbal agreements in place already and are merely waiting for the signing period to officially begin. Last year a significant portion of the Top 30 international amateurs had an agreement reported on the first day, so those who are interested in the international prospect scene will have no shortage of transaction news to keep up with tomorrow. We’ll track all of the international signing news using the 2014-15 International Prospects tag here on MLBTR.