The Red Sox have been banned from signing international amateurs that are subject to MLB’s bonus pools for the 2016-17 signing period, reports Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. Furthermore, five prospects that the Sox signed during the 2015-16 signing period have been declared free agents that are free to sign with new teams beginning tomorrow, though each player will retain the initial bonus money he received from Boston. Per Passan’s report, right-hander Cesar Gonzalez, outfielders Albert Guiamaro and Simon Muzziotti, and infielders Antonio Pinero and Eduardo Torrealba. The first $300K of their bonuses will not count toward their new teams’ international bonus pools in the upcoming period, he adds.
The punishment handed down stems from Boston’s usage of “package deals” to circumvent restrictions that were placed upon them for the 2015-16 international signing period. Boston’s signing of Yoan Moncada near the end of the 2014-15 signing period meant that the team was easily into the top penalty bracket for international signings and was supposed to bar the team from signing international amateurs (players under the age of 23 and/or with fewer than five years of pro experience) for the next two signing periods. However, Boston circumvented that limitation by “packaging” more premium prospects with lesser prospects; that is, paying $300K for multiple prospects that employ the same trainers/agents and then allowing the players’ representatives to divide the lion’s share of the collective sums to the top prospect of the bunch, with the lesser prospects receiving a smaller portion of the money.
While some will note that “package” signings have been around for quite some time, this is the first instance in which a club that was restricted by the league under the new penalties has directly utilized this tactic to sign high-caliber talent by rather devious means. As Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently laid out, previous “package deals” haven’t expressly been utilized to avoid penalization from the league. Rather, examples of package deals have been to convince a trainer/agent to allow his player to sign with a team by agreeing to take on a lesser prospect or to convince a player to sign with a team by also signing the player’s friend or sibling. Badler does note that there have been instances of a team signing a player in one international signing period as a means of enticing his trainer into an agreement for a different player in the following signing period, but those haven’t been brokered by teams that are already under the maximum penalty bracket.
Stepping back and looking at this from the perspective of players on the upcoming international market, the punishment from MLB likely voids a fair number of agreements that were already in place between Boston and prospects out of Latin America. Badler recently reported that Venezuelan Roimer Bolivar, whom he had ranked as the No. 31 prospect on this year’s market, was expected to sign with Boston. Beyond that, the Sox were expected to sign shortstops Erik Pena and Raymond Mora as well as catchers Christian Longa and Wilfredo Astudillo. Now, that quintet of players (and presumably several more unreported teenagers) will be on the lookout for new clubs with which to sign. While they’ll undoubtedly find teams interested in paying them, their market may be more limited, as many clubs that aren’t planning to exceed their pool have likely already come close to maxing out their allotted spending limit with advance agreements.
As for the Red Sox, they’ll still be able to sign pool-exempt international players (e.g. Yulieski Gurriel, Jose Miguel Fernandez, Yadiel Hernandez), but such players will be the only types of free agents able to be signed to contracts until next July 2, when the 2017-18 international signing period kicks off.